Why is gold so easily malleable while iron is so rigid?

The atoms of different elements including metallic elements have distinct atomic structures viz. protons, neutrons and electrons in varying numbers. Just as the positive and negative charges of protons and electrons respectively keep all the subatomic constituents of an atom together, a chemical phenomenon called metallic bond hold all the atoms in a metal together.
Metallic bond amongst the atoms of iron is much stronger than in case of gold. In order to understand what happens when a nugget of gold is beaten to convert it into gossamer thin gold foil let’s assume that many marbles have been lodged in strawberry jelly held in a bowl. Note that these marbles have been lodged systematically so as to form rows and columns within jelly. Assume further that each marble is a gold atom. Now, tilt the bowl to one side and you will find that the marbles have slid somewhat towards the tilt. Although they continue to remain embedded in jelly, their positions have changed somewhat. This is precisely what happens with the atoms of gold when the nugget is beaten. The ease with which atoms keep on shifting in response to beating – malleability of the metal – is very high in case of gold. Owing to this property of gold it is possible to draw nearly 2.5 kilometer long wire or make 0.6 square meter (6.5 square feet) sheet of gold foil from only one gram gold.

Additional reading:
Gold (Wikipedia)
Iron (Wikipedia)

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