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Iron is a very strong, relatively lightweight metal that is used to make springs, high-speed tools and surgical instruments. It is also found in gears, crankshafts and armor plating. Alloys of iron with cobalt, nickel and chromium are used in aircraft and jet engines. It is also combined with aluminum and titanium to make the alloys nichrome, invar, monel and terlitol, which do not expand when heated.
Pure iron is soft and corrodes easily, so it is usually mixed with other metals to improve its strength and durability. Cobalt is used to strengthen steel and to produce arc welding rods. It is also found in the alloys nichrome, invar and monel, which do not corrode in sea water. It is a necessary component of vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin), which is essential for human health.
Nickel is a hard, silvery metal that is sometimes alloyed with iron to improve its corrosion resistance. It is also used in permanent magnets, notably the Alnico alloys of aluminum, nickel and cobalt which have very high magnetic saturation moments. Alloys of nickel with chromium, molybdenum and tungsten are used to make stainless steels which resist attack by rust. It is a critical ingredient in the enzyme nitrogenase, which is required for photosynthesis in plants and some bacteria.
Vanadium enhances the cold workability of iron-cobalt-vanadium (FeCoV) and improves its ductility at low temperatures. It also reduces the melting point of FeCoV, thereby increasing its ability to be machined.