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Metallic chemical element, one of the transition elements, chemical symbol Fe, atomic number 26. Iron is the most used and cheapest metal, the second most abundant metal and fourth most abundant element in Earth's crust. It occurs rarely as a free metal, occasionally in natural alloys (especially in meteorites), and in hundreds of minerals and ores, including hematite, magnetite, limonite, and siderite. The human body contains about one-sixth of an ounce (4.5 g) of iron, mostly in hemoglobin and its precursors; iron in the diet is essential to health. Iron is ferromagnetic (seeferromagnetism) at ordinary temperatures and is the only metal that can be tempered (see tempering). Its uses in steels of various types, as well as in cast and wrought iron (collectively, ferrous metals), are numerous. Alteration of its properties by impurities, especially carbon, is the basis of steelmaking. Iron in compounds usually has valence 2 (ferrous) or 3 (ferric). Ferrous and ferric oxides (FeO and FeO, respectively) are used as pigments and the latter as jewelers' rouge. Rust is ferric oxide containing water; ferric oxide is widely used as a magnetic recording material in computer data-storage devices and magnetic tapes. Ferrous and ferric sulfates and chlorides are all of industrial importance as mordants, reducing agents, flocculating agents, or raw materials and in inks and fertilizers.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on iron, visit Britannica.com.