Rhodium is a chemical element with the symbol Rh and atomic number 45. It is a rare, silvery-white, hard, corrosion-resistant, and chemically inert transition metal. It is a noble metal and a member of the platinum group. It has only one naturally occurring isotope, Rh. Naturally occurring rhodium is usually found as free metal, as an alloy with similar metals, and rarely as a chemical compound in minerals such as bowieite and rhodplumsite. It is one of the rarest and most valuable precious metals.
Rhodium is found in platinum or nickel ores together with the other members of the platinum group metals. It was discovered in 1803 by William Hyde Wollaston in one such ore, and named for the rose color of one of its chlorine compounds.
The element's major use (approximately 80% of world rhodium production) is as one of the catalysts in the three-way catalytic converters in automobiles. Because rhodium metal is inert against corrosion and most aggressive chemicals, and because of its rarity, rhodium is usually alloyed with platinum or palladium and applied in high-temperature and corrosion-resistive coatings.
White gold is often plated with a thin rhodium layer to improve its appearance while sterling silver is often rhodium-plated for tarnish resistance. Rhodium is sometimes used to cure silicones; a two-part silicone in which one part containing a silicon hydride and the other containing a vinyl-terminated silicone are mixed. One of these liquids contains a rhodium complex.
Rhodium detectors are used in nuclear reactors to measure the neutron flux level. Other uses of rhodium include asymmetric hydrogenation used to form drug precursors and the processes for the production of acetic acid.