Oxygen, Hydrogen, & Nitrogen: The Spark of Life

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Atomic hydrogen is a powerful reductive agent, even at ambient temperature. It reacts with the oxides and chlorides of many metals, like silver , copper , lead , bismuth and mercury , to produce free metals. It reduces some salts to their metallic state, like nitrates, nitrites and sodium and potassium cyanide. Atomic hydrogen produces hydrogen peroxide, H 2 O 2 , with oxygen. Atomic hydrogen reacts with organic compounds to form a complex mixture of products; with etilene, C 2 H 4 , for instance, the products are ethane, C 2 H 6 , and butane, C 4 H The heat released when the hydrogen atoms recombine to form the hydrogen molecules is used to obtain high temperatures in atomic hydrogen welding.

Effects of exposure to hydrogen: Fire: Extremely flammable. Many reactions may cause fire or explosion. Routes of exposure: The substance can be absorbed into the body by inhalation. Inhalation: High concentrations of this gas can cause an oxygen-deficient environment. Individuals breathing such an atmosphere may experience symptoms which include headaches, ringing in ears, dizziness, drowsiness, unconsciousness, nausea, vomiting and depression of all the senses.

The skin of a victim may have a blue color. Under some circumstances, death may occur. Hydrogen is not expected to cause mutagenicity, embryotoxicity, teratogenicity or reproductive toxicity. Pre-existing respiratory conditions may be aggravated by overexposure to hydrogen. Inhalation risk: On loss of containment, a harmful concentration of this gas in the air will be reached very quickly. Physical dangers: The gas mixes well with air, explosive mixtures are easily formed.

The gas is lighter than air. C hemical dangers: Heating may cause violent combustion or explosion. Reacts violently with air, oxygen, halogens and strong oxidants causing fire and explosion hazard.

Combustion of Hydrogen and Oxygen

Metal catalysts, such as platinum and nickel , greatly enhance these reactions. High concentrations in the air cause a deficiency of oxygen with the risk of unconsciousness or death. Five radioactive isotopes of nitrogen are known also. A radioactive isotope is one that breaks apart and gives off some form of radiation. Radioactive isotopes are produced when very small particles are fired at atoms. These particles stick in the atoms and make them radioactive.

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None of the radioactive isotopes of nitrogen has any important commercial use. However, nitrogen is used quite often in tracer studies. A tracer is a radioactive isotope whose presence in a system can be detected. Normally, tracer studies use radioactive isotopes.

Nitrogen: heat properties

These isotopes give off radiation that can be detected with instruments. Nitrogen is used for a different reason. A compound made with nitrogen will weigh just a little bit more than one made with nitrogen There are simple chemical methods for detecting whether a heavier compound or a lighter one is present in a system.

Thus, nitrogen can be used to trace the path of nitrogen through a system. Nitrogen is almost always made from liquid air. Liquid air is made by cooling normal atmospheric air to very low temperatures.


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As the temperature drops, the gases contained in air turn into liquids. At And so on. Eventually, all the gases in air can be made to liquefy change into a liquid. The reverse process also takes place. Suppose liquid air in a container warms up slowly. When its temperature reaches A container can be put into place to catch the nitrogen as it boils off the liquid air.

When the temperature reaches Another container can be put into place. The escaping oxygen can be collected. All of the gases in atmospheric air can be produced by this method. Large amounts of nitrogen gas are produced in this way.

In fact, nitrogen is second only to sulfuric acid in terms of production. In , more than a trillion cubic feet of nitrogen gas were produced in the United States alone. Nitrogen gas is used where an inert atmosphere is needed. An inert atmosphere is one that does not contain active elements.

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Ordinary air is not an inert atmosphere. It contains oxygen. Oxygen tends to react with other elements. Suppose an ordinary light bulb were filled with air.

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When the bulb is turned on, an electric current runs through the metal filament wire inside the bulb. The filament gets very hot, begins to glow, and gives off light. But a hot metal wire will react quickly with oxygen in ordinary air. The metal combines with oxygen to form a compound of the metal. The metal compound will not conduct an electric current. The bulb will "burn out" very quickly.

An easy solution to that problem is to use nitrogen instead of ordinary air in the light bulb. Nitrogen does not react with other elements very well, even when they get hot. The filament can get very hot, but the metal of which it is made will not combine with nitrogen gas. The nitrogen gas is an inert atmosphere for the bulb. Another use for inert atmospheres is in protecting historic documents.

Suppose the Declaration of Independence were simply left on top of a table for people to see. The paper and ink in the document would soon begin to react with oxygen in the air.

They would both begin to decay. Before long, the document would begin to fall apart. Instead, important documents like the Declaration of Independence are kept in air-tight containers filled with nitrogen gas. The documents are protected from oxygen and other gases in the air with which they might react.

Fairly simple methods are now available for changing nitrogen gas into liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze other materials. The temperature of the nitrogen has to be reduced to Historic documents like the Declaration of Independence are protected in air-tight containers filled with nitrogen gas. This keeps them from oxygen and other gases that would cause them to decay.

Today, it is possible to buy large containers of liquid nitrogen. The liquid nitrogen can be used, then, to freeze other materials. For example, foods can be frozen simply by dipping them into large vats of liquid nitrogen. The frozen foods in a grocery store are usually produced this way.

Liquid nitrogen can also Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze foods. Frozen foods commonly found in grocery stores are produced this way. Nitrogen is the starting point for an important group of compounds. First, nitrogen is combined with hydrogen to make ammonia NH 3. The production of ammonia is sometimes called industrial nitrogen fixation. The formation of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen is very difficult to accomplish. The two elements do not easily combine.

Finding a way to make nitrogen and hydrogen combine was one of the great scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. The nitrogen compound ammonia is used by most farmers in synthetic fertilizers to ensure large crops. That discovery was made by German chemist Fritz Haber in He found that nitrogen and hydrogen would combine if they were heated to a very high temperature with a very high pressure.