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Transition Metal Ion Formation

Incoming electrons fill lowest value orbitals first

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Transition Metal Ion Formation

Elemental groupings in the periodic table

Credit: CK-12 Foundation
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

How do transition metals form ions?

The transition metals are an interesting and challenging group of elements.  They have perplexing  patterns of electron distribution that don’t always follow the electron filling rules.  Predicting how they will form ions is also not always obvious.

Transition Metal Ions

Transition metals belong to the d block, meaning that the d sublevel of electrons is in the process of being filled with up to ten electrons.  Many transition metals cannot lose enough electrons to attain a noble-gas electron configuration.  In addition,  the majority of transition metals are capable of adopting ions with different charges.  Iron, which forms either the Fe2+ or Fe3+ ions, loses electrons as shown below.

According to the Aufbau process, the electrons fill the 4s sublevel before beginning to fill the 3d sublevel.  However, the outermost s electrons are always the first to be removed in the process of forming transition metal cations.  Because most transition metals have two valence electrons, the charge of 2+ is a very common one for their ions.  This is the case for iron above.  A half-filled d sublevel (d5) is particularly stable, which is the result of an iron atom losing a third electron.

Picture of rust, iron oxide, as well as iron sulfate

Credit: (A) Paulnasca; (B) Ben Mills (Wikimedia: Benjah-bmm27)
Source: (A) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rust_screw.jpg; (B) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iron%28II%29-sulfate-heptahydrate-sample.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

A. Rust is a complex combination of oxides of iron(III), among them iron(III) oxide, Fe2O3. B. Iron(II) sulfate, FeSO4, has been known since ancient times as green vitriol and was used for centuries in the manufacture of inks. [Figure2]

Some transition metals that have relatively few d electrons may attain a noble-gas electron configuration.  Scandium is an example.

Others may attain configurations with a full d sublevel, such as zinc and copper.

The resulting configuration above, with 18 electrons in the outermost principal energy level, is referred to as a pseudo noble-gas electron configuration.  It gives particular stability to the Zn2+ and Cu+ ions.


  • Transition metal ion formation is more complex than simple cation formation.
  • Transition metal ions often involve rearrangements of both d and s electrons.


Answer the question on the link below:




  1. What block do the transition metals fall in?
  2. Which sublevel is filled first?
  3. Which sublevel loses electrons first?
  4. What is the pseudo noble-gas electron configuration?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: CK-12 Foundation; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: (A) Paulnasca; (B) Ben Mills (Wikimedia: Benjah-bmm27); Source: (A) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rust_screw.jpg; (B) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iron%28II%29-sulfate-heptahydrate-sample.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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