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Bismuth is a post-transition metal. It shares some characteristics of transition metals but is softer and conducts more poorly.
In the natural state, bismuth is a soft silvery white metal with a bright shiny surface and a yellowish or pinkish tinge. At room temperature, it combines slowly with oxygen and forms bismuth oxide (Bi2O3), which gives it its pinkish tinge.
Like most heavy metals, bismuth has low melting points. This makes it useful in alloys that can be used to make molds and fire detectors.
It also is one of the most diamagnetic materials, meaning it resists being magnetized and is repelled by a magnetic field. This property has paved the way for applications such as magnetic levitation trains, which can travel at speeds of over 250 mph.
When crystallized, bismuth has an interesting behavior: As it cools, its solid form floats above the liquid. It is this property that creates the iridescent coloring seen in bismuth geodes.
This happens because bismuth has a unique electron shell configuration that allows it to share three 6p electrons with its neighboring atoms. This allows it to form trivalent and pentavalent compounds.
In aqueous solution, bismuth reacts with the bases ammonia and sodium hydroxide to form stannite ions. This process is essentially the same as what happens when tin(II) ions are reduced by water, but it occurs under alkaline conditions. Typically, the stannite ions are prepared just before use by treating a tin(II) chloride solution with excess sodium hydroxide.