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What is Iron?

Iron is a fundamental element, essential for life and the most common metal within Earth's crust. It's the backbone of modern civilization, forming steel for infrastructure and driving blood oxygen transport in our bodies. Intrigued by iron's dual role in our world and body? Discover how this versatile element shapes our existence and continues to impact innovation. What will iron influence next?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Iron is a metallic chemical element which has been utilized by humans for centuries. The metal has played such an important role in human history that an entire era, the Iron Age, is named for it. It has numerous industrial uses, with the metal often appearing in alloys, and it is also considered a trace element which is vital for human health. You probably interact with iron in numerous alloys and forms every day, since the element is a ubiquitous part of life on Earth.

Pure iron is a silvery white, very lustrous metal. It is extremely malleable and ductile, which is one of the reasons it has been used by humans for so long, since it does not require complex technology to be worked. The metal is identified with the symbol Fe on the periodic table of elements, and it has the atomic number 26. Alloys which contain iron or act like it are called ferrous metals, in a reference to the Latin ferrum.

Red meat is a good source of dietary iron.
Red meat is a good source of dietary iron.

This metallic element is generally magnetic, although it can also be demagnetized. Because iron will remain magnetized even after a magnetic object is removed from its vicinity, it is considered ferromagnetic. Several metals demonstrate this property, and they have many useful qualities; not least as refrigerator magnets. The magnetic properties of this metal have been a useful tool in studying the history of the Earth, as ancient particles in rock have aligned in different directions over thousands of years, reflecting changes in the magnetic field of the Earth.

Iron can be used to make magnets.
Iron can be used to make magnets.

On Earth, iron does not appear in a pure form; it can be found in compounds with other rocks known as ores. These ores need to be treated in furnaces to extract the usable metal and other materials. Occasionally, it appears in meteorites and other objects which originate from space; many early humans had deep superstitions about “star iron,” since it can from the heavens rather than being taken from the Earth. Iron smelting is a major industry, since the metal is used in so many objects.

Fe is the symbol for iron on the periodic table.
Fe is the symbol for iron on the periodic table.

Humans and many other living organisms require this element for well being. Dietary iron can be found in red meat, dark leafy greens, dried fruit, beans, nuts, and seeds. A deficiency can lead to anemia, a serious medical condition. Too much can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, and other symptoms; iron poisoning in children is an issue in some regions, usually because children eat supplement pills intended for adults.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllTheScience researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllTheScience researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon271138

I think iron ore isn't real. I mean, how can it be? Why would god invent something like that? I mean god and another thing: what's this dinosaur thing?

anon134406

This website gave me enough information for a lifetime!

anon61255

Thank you this web site has helped me a lot.

sputnik

An absolutely necessary mineral for many living organisms. It carries oxygen molecules from lungs and delivers them to the rest of the body. It also keeps the immune system strong.

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    • Red meat is a good source of dietary iron.
      By: Artyshot
      Red meat is a good source of dietary iron.
    • Iron can be used to make magnets.
      By: Vlad Ivantcov
      Iron can be used to make magnets.
    • Fe is the symbol for iron on the periodic table.
      By: Andrei
      Fe is the symbol for iron on the periodic table.
    • Too much iron can cause stomach cramps.
      By: Julija Sapic
      Too much iron can cause stomach cramps.
    • Meteorites can contain iron.
      By: nuttapongg
      Meteorites can contain iron.
    • The abundant iron in the Earth's core produces a large magnetic field.
      By: Mopic
      The abundant iron in the Earth's core produces a large magnetic field.