(ELI5) what exactly is a transition metal?

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How do they have incomplete subshells?

In: Chemistry

A transition metal is a metal that is basically in between the Alkali and Alkali earth metals on one side and metalloids / non-metals on the other side. The properties are ‘transitioning’ from metallic to non-metallic.

They have incomplete shells because of the shape of orbitals. You do remember there are 4 ‘lettered’ orbitals, right? – S, P, D and F. Each of the orbitals has a higher energy level than the previous one. But wait, each ‘orbit’ or ‘shell’ also has a higher energy level than the previous one. So whose energy level is higher?

That’s where the whole game of incomplete subshells come in. Now I am going to oversimplify this, but basically if the (N+1)th S or P have lower energy levels than the Nth D or F, the electron will jump an orbit and fill the bigger orbit’s S and P orbitals rather than staying in the same orbit and fill it’s D or F.

The underlying reason is, electrons dont know maths and can’t count. N, N+1 or N+2 doesn’t matter to it. All that matter to them is stability and they’ll look for the lowest energy place they can find and go jump in it.