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Group 3 Elemental Properties

As shown in Table 1.1.1, the observed trends in the properties of the group 3 elements are similar to those of groups 1 and 2. Due to their ns2(n − 1)d1 valence electron configurations, the chemistry of all four elements is dominated by the +3 oxidation state formed by losing all three valence electrons. As expected based on periodic trends, these elements are highly electropositive metals and powerful reductants, with La (and Ac) being the most reactive. In keeping with their highly electropositive character, the group 3 metals react with water to produce the metal hydroxide and hydrogen gas:

\[2M_{(s)} + 6H_2O_{(l)} \rightarrow 2M(OH)_{3(s)} + 3H_{2(g)}\tag{1.1.1}\]

Moreover, all dissolve readily in aqueous acid to produce hydrogen gas and a solution of the hydrated M3+(aq) ion.


The chemistry of the group 3 metals is almost exclusively that of the M3+ ion; the elements are powerful reductants.

The group 3 metals react with nonmetals to form compounds that are primarily ionic in character. For example, reacting group 3 metals with the halogens produces the corresponding trihalides: MX3. The trifluorides are insoluble in water because of their high lattice energies, but the other trihalides are very soluble in water and behave like typical ionic metal halides. All group 3 elements react with air to form an oxide coating, and all burn in oxygen to form the so-called sesquioxides (M2O3), which react with H2O or CO2 to form the corresponding hydroxides or carbonates, respectively.


Table 1.1.1: Some Properties of the Elements of Groups 3
Element Z Valence Electron Configuration Electronegativity Metallic Radius (pm) Melting Point (°C) Density (g/cm3)
Sc 21 4s23d1 1.36 162 1541 2.99
Y 39 5s24d1 1.22 180 1522 4.47
La 57 6s25d1 1.10 183 918 6.15
Ac 89 7s26d1 1.10 188 1051 10.07


Scandium burns readily in oxygen to form scandium (III) oxide, \(Sc_2O_3\).

\[4Sc_{(s)} + 3O_{2(g)} \rightarrow 2Sc_2O_3 \tag{1.1.2}\]

Commercial uses of the group 3 metals are limited, but “mischmetal,” a mixture of lanthanides containing about 40% La, is used as an additive to improve the properties of steel and make flints for cigarette lighters.