115
MELTING POINT
BOILING POINT
DENSITY
Zirconium shines as brightly as any diamond
if processed correctly (as cubic zirconia). It
can also be made into a rust-free ceramic
material that’s harder than steel if its oxi-
dized, ground into a powder, and sintered.
These advanced ceramics can be used for
creating useful household tools such as scis-
sors and kitchen knives, as well as in more
exotic applications like spacecraft and jet
engines.
DIAMONDS FOR EVERYONE!
DISCOVERY YEAR: 1789
Transition
metal
Multipurpose
In teeth
Almost
indistinguishable
from real diamonds
Atomic reactors
Solid
Knives and
scissors
Ceramics
Very
hard and
doesn’t
rust
Here too
116
MELTING POINT
BOILING POINT
DENSITY
Niobium is named after Niobe, the daugh-
ter of Tantalus in Greek myth, since it bears
some resemblance to element 73 (tanta-
lum). But despite the name’s ancient ori-
gins, it now represents an element used in
cutting-edge jet engines, space shuttles,
and maglev vehicles. The metal can create
extremely powerful magnetic materials by
being alloyed with steel. This makes it not
only heat resistant but also superconductive.
SUPPORTING THE
PRACTICALITIES OF THE
FUTURE
DISCOVERY YEAR: 1801
Ferroniobium
Used in pipelines
Transition
metal
Zero resistance
Superconductivity
occurs at low
temperatures.
The magnets
used in
maglev trains
Iron
Niobium
Strong
Solid
Industrial
uses
117
MELTING POINT
BOILING POINT
DENSITY
Molybdenum steel is a very strong and rust-
resistant iron alloy. Knives made from this
steel can cost several hundred dollars. This
specialist material is also used in jet plane
landing gear and rocket engines. Recent
research has enabled us to use molybdenum
to heat water more effectively, creating a
new generation of ceramic heaters (used in
automated Japanese toilets, which use warm
jets of water instead of toilet paper).
THE DIVERSE BLACKSMITH
DISCOVERY YEAR: 1778
Transition
metal
Daily
uses
Ultra-modern
toilet seats
Industrial
lubricants
Solid
The
strongest
steel is
made with
molybdenum.
Pfft
118
MELTING POINT
BOILING POINT
DENSITY
While there might have been particles of the
43rd element at the time Earth was born,
they have long since decayed. Scientists
searched for this element for decades after
Mendeleev predicted its existence. The ele-
ment has many medical uses. For example,
because the technetium-99m isotope decays
very quickly, it is used as a radioactive tracer
to perform imaging scans and detect blood
clots.
THE FIRST
MAN-MADE ELEMENT
DISCOVERY YEAR: 1936
Used to find
blood clots
Solid
Transition
metal
Man-
made
Continuously
falls apart
Medical
119
MELTING POINT
BOILING POINT
DENSITY
While it hangs out with the other precious
metals, ruthenium isn’t really an accessory
type of guy. However, it did contribute to two
recent Nobel prizes (in 2001 and 2005) as a
catalyst in organic synthetic chemistry. It’s
great for creating higher-capacity magnetic
hard drives, and since it has a beautiful lus-
ter and is durable, it’s also used for making
fountain pens. An air of glamour hangs about
this element.
A CELEBRITY SINCE BIRTH
DISCOVERY YEAR: 1844
Transition
metal
Hard but
brittle
Multipurpose
Good at splitting
water into
hydrogen and
oxygen with the
help of sunlight
Increasing
the size of
hard disks
Solid
Fountain
pen tips
Light
Hard
disk

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