Element: Nitrogen!

By- Michael Ferrigno and Even West
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Nitrogen is one of the most abundant elements within our universe. It has many different uses. It makes up the majority of the air we breathe, it plays a huge role in the foods we eat, and it makes our lives easier. In fact, without nitrogen, our lives would not be possible. Nitrogen exists in several variations and physical forms. Nitrogen is a gas at room temperature but can be manipulated and changed into a very useful liquid, commonly referred to as liquid nitrogen. The fact that nitrogen can be turned into a liquid is extremely important for scientists when they need to freeze a substance quickly. Liquid nitrogen can only be formed from its gas state when it reaches a temperature of -195.8 degrees C (-320.4 degrees F). The gas state of Nitrogen itself is extremely inert, even when considering the fact that it isn't a noble gas or classified as an inert gas.

information--provided by http://education.jlab.org/itselemental/ele007.html

Atomic Number: 7
Atomic Weight: 14.0067
Melting Point: 63.15 K (-210.00°C or -346.00°F)
Boiling Point: 77.36 K (-195.79°C or -320.44°F)
Density: 0.0012506 grams per cubic centimeter
Phase at Room Temperature: Gas
Element Classification: Non-metal


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There were a couple of scientists who were working on taking different elements out of air. However, it is widely agreed upon that nitrogen was first discovered in Scotland by Daniel Rutherford in 1772. He discovered Nitrogen by taking common air and removing the oxygen and carbon dioxide from it. What he was left with would not combust or support life. He later discovered that Nitrogen was the other gas that was remaining. In fact Nitrogen makes up 78.1% of the Earth's air. Lavoisier called this newly discovered gas "azote" meaning "without life" because of the fact that it is mostly inert. Rutherford called the new gas he made noxious gas because of the fact that it wasn't combustible and could not support life. One of the first applications of nitrogen was using it to create ammonia which was tested extensively for many different purposes.


Nitrogen is important economically for multiple reasons. The element nitrogen itself is important in the making of ammonia which is commonly used for things like fertilizers and even rocket fuel.

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This is a diagram of the Haber processWhen you combine hydrogen with nitrogen at 450 degrees C, and with 200 times the normal air pressure, you will be left with ammonia. Ammonia is a very important chemical in science and in everyday products. Until the early 1900s it was quite difficult to make ammonia, let alone on the huge scale it is able to be produced today. By taking pure nitrogen and hydrogen and putting large quantities of them together, under the right circumstances of course, you will end up with large amounts of ammonia. This is one reason why the element nitrogen is economically important. Nitrogen is also relatively inexpensive which allows the common man to utilize it in everyday situations. This element comes from the air and makes up a surprising 78% of all the air in our atmosphere. Because it is in the air we breath it is easy to obtain in addition to being easy to create. And there is plenty of air so we don't have to worry about running out. However, when we extract some nitrogen it is immeadiately replaced because nitrogen is constantly being created and released back into nature. When people think of nitrogen, they most likely picture the liquid form as it converts to gas. Liquid nitrogen is used as a method of cooling things off quickly, such as cooling off an electron accelerator says the Jefferson Lab.


Nitrogen plays an extremely important role in the environment. It is rarely in its pure elemental form in nature but it can be found in molecules like sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate. These forms of nitrogen are created when organic matter decomposes next to potassium or sodium. Bacteria found in many soils are able to turn nitrogen into an efficient fertilizer which helps plants growing in that soil to not only grow, but flourish. Animals are then able to eat these plants, and by doing so they incorporate the nitrogen into themselves. Bacteria in the animals can turn this used form of nitrogen in the animals back into its original form. This process is called the nitrogen cycle. Nitrogen is also important to the environment because it is an important element that is found in all proteins. Without nitrogen in the environment, it would be very hard for plants and animals alike to survive.

The Nitrogen Cycle
The Nitrogen Cycle


Our health and well being are also credited to nitrogen. In fact, our bodies are mainly comprised of four major elements, one of these being nitrogen. It plays vital roles in the digestion of the food we eat, as well as our growth. As mentioned before, nitrogen makes up about 80% of the air we breath. However, our bodies are unable to process this nitrogen in any beneficial way. Our bodies get the necessary nitrogen from the foods that we eat. Spaghetti, salads, breakfast cereal, hamburgers and even cookies have lots of nitrogen in the form that our bodies need. As we eat and digest these foods, the nitrogen inside them is released. This free nitrogen then travels throughout the body and helps us grow. This process is very important during pregnancy. The nitrogen in foods eaten during pregnancy are processed in the same way only in this case much of it goes to the fetus which is essential for correct growth and development. Nitrogen is even a key ingredient at the most basic form of our existence; our DNA. external image _42664419_bodybuilder.jpgEven sports like bodybuilding heavily rely on nitrogen. Bodybuilders measure the amount of nitrogen in their systems to determine if they are getting the appropriate amount of protein. This is commonly referred to as one's nitrogen balance. There are three basic states of nitrogen balance, positive, negative, and equilibrium. A positive nitrogen balance means that they are taking in more nitrogen than they are putting out which is the best for muscle growth. Negative nitrogen balance is terrible for muscles. It means the body is not getting enough nitrogen to support its muscles which will then start to deteriorate. An finally, equilibrium is the even state of nitrogen balance where the body is taking in about the same amount of nitrogen it is putting out.

Chemistry and Physics:

Nitrogen has been classified as a non-metal on the periodic table by the IOUPAC, or International Union Of Pure Applied Chemistry. A characteristic of elements in this non-metal group is they do not conduct heat, or electricity easily. They also don't reflect light which is another non-metal characteristic. Another name for the group that nitrogen is in can be called the "Pnictogen" group. However, this name is not approved by IOUPAC as an acceptable name. At room temperature nitrogen is in a gaseous form along with oxygen which also falls into the non-metal group. The atomic number for nitrogen is 7. This means that all nitrogen atoms have 7 protons and 7 electrons. The number of neutrons, on the other hand, can vary. Nitrogen exists in two forms, N-14 and N-15. N-14 is the most common form and is 99.63% of all nitrogen. This can account for why the atomic mass of nitrogen is 14.0067, being so close to 14 rather than 15. Other isotopes of Nitrogen can be artificially made and do not naturally occur. By bombarding nitrogen with neutrons can turn it into other isotopes. There are roughly 13 other isotopes that can be artifically made including N10-13, and N16-24. The longest half life of the isotope is ten minutes, so if these isotopes were able to occur naturally in nature they wouldn't last long.
Nitrogen, as mentioned before, is relatively nonreactive. Making molecules like NH3 (ammonia) is not simple. It requires temperatures up to 450 degrees C and hundreds of times the normal air pressure to make nitrogen and hydrogen combine. Hydrogen itself is, for the most part, highly reactive, so it takes a lot or work and energy to make a highly reactive element combine with nitrogen, and for this reason it is understandable why people believed it was inert. Even through the Haber process, it takes many rotations through the cycle before all of the nitrogen will combine with the hydrogen. Nitrogen can actually be turned into a solid if it is cooled below -210 degrees C. Although nitrogen as a solid isn't used as much as when it is in the other forms.

Surprising Facts:

To make liquid nitrogen, you need a temperature colder than -195 degrees C, because otherwise it will just boil and turn into a gas. People would guess that the coldest thing they can think of would be liquid nitrogen. And beside that would be dry ice. In fact, other elements can be cooled into a liquid form which consist at much lower temperatures. Liquid helium for example is colder than -270 degrees C. Hydrogen and Neon also have a lower boiling point than Nitrogen. But the fact that we commonly hear about liquid nitrogen is because it is cheaper to make than say liquid helium. Because we are rather limited to the helium available, the price for it to harvest and then cool to such low temperatures is costly. Which is why liquid nitrogen is about three times cheaper than helium.

Most people would think that if you were to stick your hand into liquid nitrogen, you would get frostbite and it would be the end of your hand. This is partly true and partly false. There is such thing as the Leidenfrost effect. This occurs when two massive temperature changes happen at the same time. In this case, its liquid nitrogen at -195 degrees C. to our hand which is around 90 degrees F. When this happens, the liquid nitrogen instantly boils from the temperature change and it turns into a gas. But because this happens so quick when we stick our hand in liquid nitrogen, the steam that instantly occurs doesn't conduct heat as quickly as if it were directly contacting our skin. So that stem prevents our hands from frostbite but only for a few seconds, then the temperatures will even out and frostbite will occur.
external image Liquid-Nitrogen.jpg
-- Above is an image of liquid nitrogen being poured into a beaker as it partially converts into a gas.

Here is a video about the Leidenfrost effect::

Here is a youtube video demonstrating the effects of nitrogen on balloons when the nitrogen is around the point of -200 degrees C.

Works Cited
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