Chemists forge a new form of iron

MADISON - An international team of chemists has discovered a new and unexpected form of iron, a finding that adds to the fundamental understanding of an element that is among the most abundant on Earth and that, in nature, is an essential catalyst for life.

"We have synthesized something totally new that nobody has imagined could exist, and something which adds greatly to our understanding of fundamental iron chemistry," says John F. Berry, an Alexander von Humboldt postdoctoral fellow at Germany's Max-Planck Institute for Bioinorganic Chemistry in Mlheim. Berry, recently named an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is the lead author of a paper describing the new species of iron in this week's (June 1) online edition of Science, Science Express.

In addition to its role in the manufacture of thousands of everyday objects, iron, in its various manifestations, is widely known and used for its reactive properties. It occurs in nature in different ionized forms and is essential for the health and well being of virtually all kinds of life. Blood, for instance, is red because of the presence of iron II ions in hemoglobin.

The form that the metal takes is dependent on the number of electrons in the iron atom's outermost shell, known as valence electrons (there are eight in an ordinary iron atom). Iron can occur in different ionized forms determined by the number of valence electrons, which are essential for forming chemical bonds with other atoms.

"The valence electrons of an ion are those mainly responsible for how the ion reacts," Berry explains.

The new species of iron found by Berry and his colleagues is designated iron VI, which means the atom has just two valence electrons and is highly reactive as it seeks to regain iron's eight-electron stable configuration by grabbing electrons from atoms of other elements. The new form is so reactive it can only be studied at low temperatures, in this ca

Contact: John F. Berry
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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