Noble metal
Noble metals are metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...

s that are resistant to corrosion
Corrosion is the disintegration of an engineered material into its constituent atoms due to chemical reactions with its surroundings. In the most common use of the word, this means electrochemical oxidation of metals in reaction with an oxidant such as oxygen...

 and oxidation in moist air, unlike most base metal
Base metal
In chemistry, the term base metal is used informally to refer to a metal that oxidizes or corrodes relatively easily, and reacts variably with diluted hydrochloric acid to form hydrogen. Examples include iron, nickel, lead and zinc...

s. They tend to be precious, often due to their rarity in the Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

's crust. The noble metals are considered to be (in order of increasing atomic number
Atomic number
In chemistry and physics, the atomic number is the number of protons found in the nucleus of an atom and therefore identical to the charge number of the nucleus. It is conventionally represented by the symbol Z. The atomic number uniquely identifies a chemical element...

) ruthenium
Ruthenium is a chemical element with symbol Ru and atomic number 44. It is a rare transition metal belonging to the platinum group of the periodic table. Like the other metals of the platinum group, ruthenium is inert to most chemicals. The Russian scientist Karl Ernst Claus discovered the element...

, rhodium
Rhodium is a chemical element that is a rare, silvery-white, hard and chemically inert transition metal and a member of the platinum group. It has the chemical symbol Rh and atomic number 45. It is composed of only one isotope, 103Rh. Naturally occurring rhodium is found as the free metal, alloyed...

, palladium
Palladium is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pd and an atomic number of 46. It is a rare and lustrous silvery-white metal discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston. He named it after the asteroid Pallas, which was itself named after the epithet of the Greek goddess Athena, acquired...

, silver
Silver is a metallic chemical element with the chemical symbol Ag and atomic number 47. A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal...

, osmium
Osmium is a chemical element with the symbol Os and atomic number 76. Osmium is a hard, brittle, blue-gray or blue-blacktransition metal in the platinum family, and is the densest natural element. Osmium is twice as dense as lead. The density of osmium is , slightly greater than that of iridium,...

, iridium
Iridium is the chemical element with atomic number 77, and is represented by the symbol Ir. A very hard, brittle, silvery-white transition metal of the platinum family, iridium is the second-densest element and is the most corrosion-resistant metal, even at temperatures as high as 2000 °C...

, platinum
Platinum is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Pt and an atomic number of 78. Its name is derived from the Spanish term platina del Pinto, which is literally translated into "little silver of the Pinto River." It is a dense, malleable, ductile, precious, gray-white transition metal...

, and gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...


Other sources include mercury
Mercury (element)
Mercury is a chemical element with the symbol Hg and atomic number 80. It is also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum...

 or even rhenium
Rhenium is a chemical element with the symbol Re and atomic number 75. It is a silvery-white, heavy, third-row transition metal in group 7 of the periodic table. With an average concentration of 1 part per billion , rhenium is one of the rarest elements in the Earth's crust. The free element has...

 as a noble metal.
On the other hand, titanium
Titanium is a chemical element with the symbol Ti and atomic number 22. It has a low density and is a strong, lustrous, corrosion-resistant transition metal with a silver color....

, niobium
Niobium or columbium , is a chemical element with the symbol Nb and atomic number 41. It's a soft, grey, ductile transition metal, which is often found in the pyrochlore mineral, the main commercial source for niobium, and columbite...

, and tantalum
Tantalum is a chemical element with the symbol Ta and atomic number 73. Previously known as tantalium, the name comes from Tantalus, a character in Greek mythology. Tantalum is a rare, hard, blue-gray, lustrous transition metal that is highly corrosion resistant. It is part of the refractory...

 are not included as noble metals despite the fact that they are very resistant to corrosion.

Noble metals should not be confused with precious metal
Precious metal
A precious metal is a rare, naturally occurring metallic chemical element of high economic value.Chemically, the precious metals are less reactive than most elements, have high lustre, are softer or more ductile, and have higher melting points than other metals...

s (although many noble metals are precious).


Palladium, platinum, gold and mercury can be dissolved in aqua regia
Aqua regia
Aqua regia or aqua regis is a highly corrosive mixture of acids, fuming yellow or red solution, also called nitro-hydrochloric acid. The mixture is formed by freshly mixing concentrated nitric acid and hydrochloric acid, usually in a volume ratio of 1:3, respectively...

, a highly concentrated mixture of hydrochloric acid
Hydrochloric acid
Hydrochloric acid is a solution of hydrogen chloride in water, that is a highly corrosive, strong mineral acid with many industrial uses. It is found naturally in gastric acid....

 and nitric acid
Nitric acid
Nitric acid , also known as aqua fortis and spirit of nitre, is a highly corrosive and toxic strong acid.Colorless when pure, older samples tend to acquire a yellow cast due to the accumulation of oxides of nitrogen. If the solution contains more than 86% nitric acid, it is referred to as fuming...

, but iridium and silver cannot. (Silver can dissolve in nitric acid
Nitric acid
Nitric acid , also known as aqua fortis and spirit of nitre, is a highly corrosive and toxic strong acid.Colorless when pure, older samples tend to acquire a yellow cast due to the accumulation of oxides of nitrogen. If the solution contains more than 86% nitric acid, it is referred to as fuming...

 though.) Ruthenium can be dissolved in aqua regia only when in the presence of oxygen, while rhodium must be in a fine pulverized form. Niobium and tantalum are resistant to acids, including aqua regia.
This term can also be used in a relative sense, considering "noble" as an adjective for the word "metal". A "galvanic series
Galvanic series
The galvanic series determines the nobility of metals and semi-metals. When two metals are submerged in an electrolyte, while electrically connected, the less noble will experience galvanic corrosion. The rate of corrosion is determined by the electrolyte and the difference in nobility...

" is a hierarchy of metals (or other electrically conductive materials, including composites and semimetals) that runs from noble to active, and allows designers to see at a glance how materials will interact in the environment used to generate the series. In this sense of the word, graphite
The mineral graphite is one of the allotropes of carbon. It was named by Abraham Gottlob Werner in 1789 from the Ancient Greek γράφω , "to draw/write", for its use in pencils, where it is commonly called lead . Unlike diamond , graphite is an electrical conductor, a semimetal...

 is more noble than silver and the relative nobility of many materials is highly dependent upon context, as for aluminium
Aluminium or aluminum is a silvery white member of the boron group of chemical elements. It has the symbol Al, and its atomic number is 13. It is not soluble in water under normal circumstances....

 and stainless steel
Stainless steel
In metallurgy, stainless steel, also known as inox steel or inox from French "inoxydable", is defined as a steel alloy with a minimum of 10.5 or 11% chromium content by mass....

 in conditions of varying pH
In chemistry, pH is a measure of the acidity or basicity of an aqueous solution. Pure water is said to be neutral, with a pH close to 7.0 at . Solutions with a pH less than 7 are said to be acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline...


In physics, the definition of a noble metal is even more strict. It is required that the d-bands
Atomic orbital
An atomic orbital is a mathematical function that describes the wave-like behavior of either one electron or a pair of electrons in an atom. This function can be used to calculate the probability of finding any electron of an atom in any specific region around the atom's nucleus...

 of the electronic structure are filled. Taking this into account, only copper, silver and gold are noble metals, as all d-like bands are filled and do not cross the Fermi level
Fermi level
The Fermi level is a hypothetical level of potential energy for an electron inside a crystalline solid. Occupying such a level would give an electron a potential energy \epsilon equal to its chemical potential \mu as they both appear in the Fermi-Dirac distribution function,which...

. For platinum two d-bands cross the Fermi level, changing its chemical behaviour; it is used as a catalyst. The different reactivity can easily be seen during the preparation of clean metal surfaces in an ultra-high vacuum; surfaces of "physically defined" noble metals (e.g., gold) are easy to clean and keep clean for a long time, while those of platinum or palladium, for example, are covered by carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 very quickly.


Metallic elements, including several non-noble metals, sorted by their chemical "nobility" (noble metals bolded):

element group reaction potential
Gold Ib/6 Au → + 3  1.498 V
Platinum VIIIb/6 Pt → + 2  1.18 V
Iridium VIIIb/6 Ir → + 3  1.156 V
Palladium VIIIb/5 Pd → + 2  0.987 V
Osmium VIIIb/6 Os + 4  → + 8  + 8  0.838 V
Silver Ib/5 Ag → + 0.7996 V
Mercury IIb/6 2 Hg → + 2  0.7973 V
Polonium VIa/6 Po → + 2  0.65 V
Rhodium VIIIb/5 Rh → + 2  0.600 V
Ruthenium VIIIb/5 Ru → + 2  0.455 V
Copper Ib/4 Cu → + 2  0.337 V
Bismuth Va/6 Bi → + 3  0.308 V
Technetium VIIb/5 Tc + 2  → + 4  + 4  0.272 V
Rhenium VIIb/6 Re + 2  → + 4  + 4  0.259 V
Antimony Va/5 2 Sb + 3  → + 6  + 6  0.152 V

The column group denotes its position in the periodic table
Periodic table
The periodic table of the chemical elements is a tabular display of the 118 known chemical elements organized by selected properties of their atomic structures. Elements are presented by increasing atomic number, the number of protons in an atom's atomic nucleus...

, hence electronic configuration.
The simplified reactions, listed in the next column, can also be read in detail from the Pourbaix diagram
Pourbaix diagram
In chemistry, a Pourbaix diagram, also known as a potential/pH diagram, maps out possible stable phases of an aqueous electrochemical system. Predominant ion boundaries are represented by lines. As such a Pourbaix diagram can be read much like a standard phase diagram with a different set of axes...

s of the considered element in water.
Finally the column potential indicates the electric potential
Standard electrode potential
In electrochemistry, the standard electrode potential, abbreviated E° or E , is the measure of individual potential of a reversible electrode at standard state, which is with solutes at an effective concentration of 1 mol dm−3, and gases at a pressure of 1 atm...

 of the element measured against a H-electrode in aqueous, pH 7 solution.
All missing elements in this table are either not metals or have a negative standard potential.

Antimony and polonium are considered metalloid
Metalloid is a term used in chemistry when classifying the chemical elements. On the basis of their general physical and chemical properties, each element can usually be classified as a metal or a nonmetal. However, some elements with intermediate or mixed properties can be harder to characterize...

s and thus can not be noble metals. Also chemists and metallurgists consider copper and bismuth not noble metals because they easily oxidize due to the reaction + 2 + 4 ⇄ 4(aq) + 0.40 V which is possible in moist air.

Silver and copper film over and oxidize easily and readily, thus the copper sheets with a patina
Patina is a tarnish that forms on the surface of bronze and similar metals ; a sheen on wooden furniture produced by age, wear, and polishing; or any such acquired change of a surface through age and exposure...

 of oxidation used in architectural designs and the resultant market for a myriad of silver polishing compounds. The film over of silver is due to its high sensitivity to hydrogen sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide
Hydrogen sulfide is the chemical compound with the formula . It is a colorless, very poisonous, flammable gas with the characteristic foul odor of expired eggs perceptible at concentrations as low as 0.00047 parts per million...

. Chemically patina is caused by an attack of oxygen in wet air and by afterward.
On the other hand, rhenium coated mirrors are said to be very durable, despite the fact that rhenium and technetium are said to tarnish slowly in moist atmosphere.

External links

  • noble metal - chemistry Encyclopædia Britannica, online edition
  • To see which bands cross the Fermi level, the Fermi surface
    Fermi surface
    In condensed matter physics, the Fermi surface is an abstract boundary useful for predicting the thermal, electrical, magnetic, and optical properties of metals, semimetals, and doped semiconductors. The shape of the Fermi surface is derived from the periodicity and symmetry of the crystalline...

    s of almost all the metals can be found at the Fermi Surface Database
  • The following article might also clarify the correlation between band structure and the term noble metal:
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