Do you know what nitrogen is? If not, it’s definitely worth learning about! Nitrogen is in the air we breathe, and it’s found in all living things. Keep reading to learn more!
What is nitrogen?
Nitrogen is a colorless, odorless gas and is the seventh most common element in the universe.
Nitrogen is found in stars, plants, animals, and even our own DNA. Although we usually think of the air we breathe as only oxygen, it is actually 78% nitrogen.
Although nitrogen is mostly good for us and our planet, too much nitrogen can be toxic, like many elements.
How was nitrogen discovered?
Before 1674, people thought that air was one single element. Then a physician named John Mayow demonstrated that air is made up of different substances.
How did he know? He realized that some air is combustible, meaning it can easily catch fire, and some air is not.
He called the air that did not support combustion “noxious air.” We now call it nitrogen.
Other scientists built on Mayow’s work, and the credit for discovering nitrogen usually goes to Daniel Rutherford, who separated nitrogen from air in 1772.
Nitrogen didn’t get its name until 1790, thanks to the French chemist Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal.
Chaptal called the gas nitrogen because he discovered through an experiment that it was part of a chemical compound then called niter, which we now refer to as potassium nitrate.
How is nitrogen used?
Nitrogen is used in fertilizer to help plants grow. Using too much fertilizer with nitrogen is bad for the planet, however. It can pollute air and water, and too much nitrous oxide can cause acid rain.
Stainless steel is made using nitrogen, and stainless steel is then used in the construction of buildings and a wide variety of items, including medical equipment, silverware, and furniture.
Science labs use the liquid form of nitrogen to keep things extra cold, and nitrogen is used as laughing gas in dental procedures.
Laughing gas helps make these procedures less painful and keeps patients feeling relaxed. As you probably guessed, it also makes you laugh!
Nitrogen has many other uses as well, including explosives, lightbulbs, the production of electronics, and food preservatives that keep food frozen and fresh for longer amounts of time.
Nitrogen is also used by nature, and the nitrogen cycle describes nitrogen’s movement between plants, animals, bacteria, the air, and even the dirt.
Nitrogen is an important part of cells, proteins, and amino acids that are considered the “building blocks of life.”
Plants need nitrogen for food and energy. In fact, it’s not just plants, but also humans and other animals that would not be able to survive without nitrogen.
Facts about nitrogen
Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is 98% nitrogen.
As a liquid, nitrogen looks very similar to water. But unlike water, liquid nitrogen is so cold that it burns! It can actually be used to remove warts.
The Aurora Borealis, a natural, colorful light display mostly seen in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, occurs when oxygen and nitrogen collide with electrons from space. Nitrogen is responsible for the aurora’s beautiful colors.
The human body is 3% nitrogen.
The explosive TNT, scientifically named trinitrotoluene, is a compound of nitrogen.
“The bends,” a sometimes deadly illness, happens when nitrogen gas bubbles form quickly in the organs and blood.
Oxygen is also involved in “the bends”, and it comes about as a result of sudden decreased pressure. It sometimes happens to scuba divers who come to the water’s surface too quickly.
Nitrogen is the fourth most abundant element in the human body.
Now you know all about nitrogen! Isn’t it interesting that something we can’t see or touch can still be so important to all of life on Earth? We wouldn’t even be here today if it weren’t for nitrogen.