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The elements in the periodic table are often divided into four categories: (1) main group elements, (2) transition metals, (3) lanthanides, and (4) actinides. The main group elements include the active metals in the two columns on the extreme left of the periodic table and the metals, semimetals, and nonmetals in the six columns on the far right. The transition metals are the metallic elements that serve as a bridge, or transition, between the two sides of the periodic table. The lanthanides and the actinides at the bottom of the table are sometimes known as the inner transition metals because they have atomic numbers that fall between the first and second elements in the last two rows of the transition metals.
Transition metals are like main group metals in many ways: They look like metals, they are malleable and ductile, they conduct heat and electricity, and they form positive ions. The fact the two best conductors of electricity are a transition metal (copper) and a main group metal (aluminum) shows the extent to which the physical properties of main group metals and transition metals overlap.
There are also differences between these metals. The transition metals are more electronegative than the main group metals, for example, and are therefore more likely to form covalent compounds.
Transition Metal Nanoparticles
Another difference between the main group metals and transition metals can be seen in the formulas of the compounds they form. The main group metals tend to form salts (such as NaCl, Mg3N2, and CaS) in which there are just enough negative ions to balance the charge on the positive ions.
The transition metals form similar compounds [such as FeCl3, HgI2, or Cd(OH)2], but they are more likely than main group metals to form complexes, such as the FeCl4-, HgI42-, and Cd(OH)42- ions, that have an excess number of negative ions.
The use of transition metal nanoparticles (NPs) in catalysis is crucial as they mimic metal surface activation and catalysis at the nanoscale and thereby bring selectivity and efficiency to heterogeneous catalysis. Transition metal NPs are clusters containing from a few tens to several thousand metal atoms, stabilized by ligands, surfactants, polymers or dendrimers protecting their surfaces. Their sizes vary between the order of one nanometer to several tens or hundreds of nanometers, but the most active in catalysis are only one or a few nanometers in diameter, i.e. they contain a few tens to a few hundred atoms only. This approach is also relevant to homogeneous catalysis, because there is a full continuum between small metal clusters and large metal clusters, the latter being also called colloids, sols or NPs. NPs are also well soluble in classic solvents (unlike metal chips in heterogeneous catalysis) and can often be handled and even characterized as molecular compounds by spectroscopic techniques that are well known to molecular chemists, such as H and multinuclear NMR, infrared and UV – vis spectroscopy and cyclic voltammetry.