When you think of elements necessary for supporting life, you probably think of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and others of the like, but it’s unlikely that a shiny, silver metal like molybdenum enters your head right away. Still, this transition metal is critical to a number of organic functions, in addition to being a handy material for industry.
Lighter Than Expected
Molybdenum occurs naturally as a part of many different minerals, though its isolated metallic form is not found in nature. In fact, it is the 54th most abundant element on Earth, and it is created as a byproduct of mining tungsten and copper, therefore it’s most commonly produced in the U.S., China, and South America.
Interestingly, this metal has half the atomic weight of tungsten, making it a popular replacement for the heavier metal in many alloys. What’s more, molybdenum’s unusually high melting point adds a level of durability to materials that utilize it.
This element was first isolated by a Swedish chemist in 1781, though it had actually been discovered several years prior. Prior to that discovery, molybdenite (made of molybdenum sulfite) was generally mistaken for lead or graphite.
Performing Under Pressure
Molybdenum is a popular alloying material as it increases hardness, strength, and conductivity among other things. Many times, steel containing molybdenum will be used in engines as they must perform well under immense pressure in high heat.
Additionally, molybdenum is present in more than 50 enzymes that are integral to plant and animal function. In humans, this element helps the body break down amino acids. Still, too much of this helpful material can become toxic.
Molybdenum may not be one of the first elements that comes to mind when you’re listing useful materials, but it makes life both easier, and possible at all.