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ruthenium powder is a white to silvery metal that is used as an alloying agent, a versatile catalyst and to improve corrosion resistance. It is a member of the platinum group of elements (Groups 8, 9, 10, Rows 5 and 6 in the periodic table). It is rare and expensive, hence the term “precious metal.”
Pure metal ruthenium has few uses, but it is an effective hardener for palladium and platinum, and small additions improve the wear resistance of tungsten. Its compounds are used in jewelry, fountain pen nibs, and tools. It also acts as a catalyst in oxidation reactions, hydrogenation, isomerization and reorganization.
Scientists have identified at least eight oxidation states of ruthenium. The most stable is ruthenium trioxide, RuO3. Its molecules have a tetrahedral shape and it is an electroactive compound with a high melting point and boiling point. It can oxidize virtually any hydrocarbon to form the corresponding alkynes and primary alcohols, and it is used in organic syntheses to oxidize alkynes to 1,2-diketones and primary alcohols to carboxylic acids. Ruthenium tetroxide, RuO4, is much more toxic and explosive.
Ruthenium is found in the earth as a free element and also in compounds such as ruthenium trioxide. It is extracted from its ores using a complex process. The final step involves hydrogen reduction of ammonium ruthenium chloride to yield a powder which is consolidated by powder metallurgy or arc welding. It is also used as a cancer drug which inhibits metastasis by blocking the formation of new blood vessels that supply tumor cells with oxygen.