Nitrogen Facts

Nitrogen is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas, but is certainly isn't boring. Did you know, Nitrogen makes up 78 percent of the air we breathe? Or that this substance is found in all living things, including plants and the human body? Let's explore the world of Nitrogen further to see what other gassy facts we can discover.

Nitrogen History

Although, compounds of Nitrogen were known of in the Middle Ages, it wasn't until 1772 that it really made the news. A chemist by the name of, Daniel Rutherford, noticed in his experiments that a very small portion of the air did not support combustion. He called this find, "noxious air."

Around the same time other scientists were busy making their own finds with nitrogen. Carl Wilhelm Scheele, Joseph Priestley and Henry Cavendish, labeled this gas as "burnt air."

However, it wasn't until 1790 that nitrogen got its official name. A French chemist (Jean-Antoine Chaptal) found this gas in a substance called, niter, which is also known by the names saltpeter and potassium nitrate.

Nitrogen got its name from the Greek language; nitron means "native soda" and genes means "forming."

Where is Nitrogen Found?

We may always think the air we are breathing is just plain oxygen, but it actually contains around 78 percent nitrogen. But even though our air is filled with this gas, the Earth itself has very little. In fact, only very rare minerals, like saltpeter, contain nitrogen.

You may also be surprised to learn that all living organisms (including us) contain nitrogen. It is an essential element in the role of proteins and nucleic acids - these are the "building blocks" of all living things!

What is Nitrogen Used For?

Check out all the uses of this important element.

  • Fertilizer - known as the Haber process, Nitrogen is mixed with Hydrogen to create Ammonia, which is used in fertilizers.
  • Explosives - uses the same Haber process
  • Food preservatives
  • Manufacturing stainless steel
  • Part of the gas used in incandescent light bulbs
  • Liquid Nitrogen - used in scientific labs to keep things ultra-cold
  • In storing beer - Nitrogen is used in pressurized kegs to keep the beer from going flat
  • Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas) - is used for some dental procedures. It relieves pain and keeps the patient calm. It can also make some people laugh...a lot!

The Not-So-Nice Side of Nitrogen

Nitrogen is a main component in fertilizer; this helps the plants grow big and strong. However, when the nitrogen-loaded fertilizer is used in large quantities, the excess will begin to seep into the ground. This not only contaminates the water underneath the top-soil, but also water on top of the ground. This can be toxic to the environment, including animals and people. In addition, "nutrient pollution" is also seeping into the air we breathe.

A condition known as "the bends" can occur when scuba divers come to the surface from deep dives too quickly (depressurize). The nitrogen found the bloodstream will actually form tiny bubbles. This is never good as it can result in severe pain or even death!

The Fun Facts About Nitrogen ~ Did You Know…

  • the Atomic number for Nitrogen is 7 and its symbol is N?
  • Nitrogen is produced deep down inside of the stars? This is called, fusion.
  • Nitrogen plays a vital role in DNA makeup?
  • the largest moon around Saturn (Titan) has an atmosphere made up of 98 percent nitrogen?

Try This ~ A Fun Experiment With Nitrogen

It's always fun to see chemicals at work, so try this easy experiment to see how liquid Nitrogen can change the molecules in ice cream

Warning: Adult Supervision is required for this experiment!

You Will Need:

  • Neapolitan ice cream (3 flavors)
  • Canister of liquid nitrogen
  • 3 small bottles with "drop" nozzles

First, separate the ice cream into its three flavors. Let it melt a bit, then fill your small bottles, each one containing its own flavour. Now let an ADULT fill a bowl with liquid nitrogen.

Remember this stuff is super-cold (-321 F or -196 C) and will give you a nasty frostbite, so keep away from this element. Take your squeeze bottles of ice cream and drip a small amount into the liquid nitrogen. You will notice they instantly freeze into small beads. Remove them with a slotted spoon and enjoy!

You can also do the same thing with mini-marshmallows. Simply add the liquid nitrogen to a bowl of mini's. They will freeze into a solid little ball.

Now that you have learned all about Nitrogen and how important it is, go out and impress your friends and family with these fun facts. Just don't let them think you have freezer-brain.




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