Transition Metals: Definition, List & Properties

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth (Nikki) Wyman

Nikki has a master's degree in teaching chemistry and has taught high school chemistry, biology and astronomy.

The heart of the periodic table is home to some of the most famous metals, the transition metals. Learn the definition of a transition metal, look at a list of them, and learn some of their properties. Then, assess your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition of Transition Metals

Elements that lose electrons easily, that are lustrous and malleable, and that are good conductors of heat and electricity are known as metals. Metal elements can be broken down into several categories, one of which is the category of transition metals.

A transition metal is defined as a metal with inner d or f orbitals being filled. Orbitals describe ways that electrons can be organized around a nucleus. There are four types of orbitals: s, p, d, and f.

The transition metals consist of the 40 elements located in columns 3-12 on the periodic table and the 28 elements comprising the lanthanide and actinide series. Elements in the lanthanide and actinide series are often considered to be inner transition metals. The transition metals are identifiable in the periodic table shown here in peach; the inner transition metals are dark pink and light pink in color. The d-block transition metals are in columns 3-12, often labeled 1B-10B in other versions of the periodic table. The f-block inner transition metals are in the two long rows below the periodic table. Inner transition metals are often just referred to as transition metals.

Periodic table colored by element group.

List

There are nearly 100 transition metals, so it would take a little too long to list them all in this video. However, it might be useful to you to remember that transition metals include:

  • Scandium (21) through zinc (30)
  • Yttrium (39) through cadmium (48)
  • Lanthanum (57) through mercury (80)
  • Actinium (89) through copernicium (112)

The table below lists all of the transition metals, their corresponding element symbol and atomic number.

Element Name Symbol Atomic Number
Scandium Sc 21
Titanium Ti 22
Vanadium V 23
Chromium Cr 24
Manganese Mn 25
Iron Fe 26
Cobalt Co 27
Nickel Ni 28
Copper Cu 29
Zinc Zn 30
Yttrium Y 39
Zirconium Zr 40
Niobium Nb 41
Molybdenum Mo 42
Technetium Tc 43
Ruthenium Ru 44
Rhodium Rh 45
Palladium Pd 46
Silver Ag 47
Cadmium Cd 48
Lanthanum La 57
Cerium Ce 58
Praseodymium Pr 59
Neodymium Nd 60
Promethium Pm 61
Samarium Sm 62
Europium Eu 63
Gadolinium Gd 64
Terbium Tb 65
Dysprosium Dy 66
Holmium Ho 67
Erbium Er 68
Thulium Tm 69
Ytterbium Yb 70
Lutetium Lu 71
Halfnium Hf 72
Tantalum Ta 73
Tungsten W 74
Rhenium Re 75
Osmium Os 76
Iridium Ir 77
Platinum Pt 78
Gold Au 79
Mercury Hg 80
Actinium Ac 89
Thorium Th 90
Protactinium Pa 91
Uranium U 92
Neptunium Np 93
Plutonium Pu 94
Americium Am 95
Curium Cm 96
Berkelium Bk 97
Californium Cf 98
Einsteinium Em 99
Fermium Fm 100
Mendelevium Md 101
Nobelium No 102
Lawrencium Lr 103
Rutherfordium Rf 104
Dubnium Db 105
Seaborgium Sg 106
Bohrium Bh 107
Hassium Hs 108
Meitnerium Mt 109
Darmstadtium Ds 110
Roentgenium Rg 111
Copernicium Cn 112

Properties of Transition Metals

Transition metals show similar properties by column and by row. In general, transition metals are lustrous, silvery, hard, and good conductors of heat and electricity. Properties between individual elements may vary greatly. For instance, mercury is a liquid at room temperature, whereas tungsten does not melt until 3,400 degrees Celsius.

Mercury, often known as quicksilver, is a liquid at room temperature. It is one of the oldest metals known to humans.
Mercury droplets

Some elements are extremely malleable, like gold and silver, while others, like cobalt, are more difficult to mold. Some metals, like copper, are very ductile and can be made into wires. Nearly all of the metals are good conductors of heat and electricity, but some are better than others. Copper and silver are amongst the best conductors.

Unlike elements from the rest of the periodic table, transition metals are comfortable losing different numbers of electrons. Whereas elements from column one can only ever form charges of +1, a single transition metal may be able to form variously charged ions. Iron, for example, can exist with a +2 or +3 charge.

Vanadium can exist with a charge between +2 and +5. The ability to have multiple types of cations is related to the organization of electrons in the d and f orbitals.

Chemical reactivity of the transition metals varies greatly. Some metals will react to form compounds, while others prefer to remain in their pure form. Many transition metals, like iron and titanium, will readily react with oxygen to form oxides. Other transition metals, like gold and platinum, are less reactive and can lie for thousands of years next to oxygen without reacting.

Famously unreactive gold is often found in its pure form.
Gold veins in rock.

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