Free Science Tutorial on the Chemistry of Nitrogen

Nitrogen is a nonmetallic element. It is the major constituent of air. It belongs to group 15 of the periodic table. It is a stable element and is used in many places for creating an inert atmosphere. The chemistry of this element is discussed in this article.


Air is a combination of two gases. This was discovered in the year 1772 by a Swedish Chemist having the name Carl Wilhelm Scheele. He named these two gases Fire air and foul air. Fire air is nothing but oxygen and foul air is nothing but nitrogen. We all know that air supports fire and nitrogen will cease the fire. Later on in the year 1790, the gas foul air was named Nitrogen by French chemist Joseph Priestley. It was first considered an element by Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier.

The atmosphere of Earth consists of 75.51% by weight or 78.09% by volume of nitrogen. The source of nitrogen is air only for many commercial and industrial uses. In addition to the above free nitrogen, some other gases that are having nitrogen such as ammonia and ammonium salts. nitrogen oxides and nitric acid are also present in small quantities in the air.

There are some mineral deposits in which nitrogen will occur. They are saltpetre, Chile saltpetre, etc. But these are not adequate for our actual needs and the air is the main source. All proteins will contain nitrogen and the percentage of this nitrogen in proteins will be around 16%. These proteins are present in all living beings.

Nitrogen is a non-metallic element. It belongs to Group 15 of the periodic table. This element is having no colour, no smell, and no taste. All living organisms will contain nitrogen. The chemical symbol of this element is N.

The properties of nitrogen:

Some important properties of nitrogen are mentioned below.
  1. The atomic number of nitrogen is 7 and its atomic weight is 14.

  2. The melting point of this element which is a gas at normal temperatures is -209.86 °C.

  3. The boiling point is -195.8 °C.

  4. The density of this non-metallic element is 1.2506 grams/litre.

  5. This element will have half-filled orbitals in its outermost orbit. 1s^2 ,2s^2, 2p^3.That is why this gas is more stable and very less reactive.

  6. Nitrogen has two stable isotopes, N 14 and N 15. In nature, N14 is more abundant and approximately it will form 99.64% of total nitrogen present in the universe.

Production of nitrogen:

Nitrogen is normally made on a commercial scale by liquefying the air and then subjecting this to fractional distillation. The boiling temperature of nitrogen is less by about 13 °C than that of oxygen. So, taking this as an advantage nitrogen will be separated from the air through fractional distillation.

Another popular method of nitrogen making on a large scale is burning carbon or hydrocarbons in the air. Then carbon dioxide and water from the residual nitrogen will be separated.

There are many methods to make this gas on the laboratory scale. On a small scale. barium azide, Ba(N3)2 will be heated which will get separated as barium and nitrogen. Nitrogen can be made by heating ammonium nitrate (NH4NO2) solutions.

Uses of nitrogen:

Some of the important uses of nitrogen are mentioned below.
  1. Nitrogen element is very stable and will be used as an inert atmosphere to conduct chemical reactions where oxygen and moisture should not be present.

  2. Liquid nitrogen is having very good cryogenic applications
  3. .
  4. Nitrogen is purged in reactors while conducting chemical reactions and processes where fire hazards and explosion hazards exist.

  5. Nitrogen atmosphere is used in many food industries to store food for a longer time without getting oxidized or getting spoiled.

  6. Nitrogen is used for freeze-drying and refrigeration systems.

  7. Nitrogen is used in many industries for welding, soldering, and brazing.

  8. This gas finds application in many industries manufacturing plastics, chemicals, etc. It is used as a liquid propellant in the aerospace industry.

  9. In the health care industry also, this gas will have many applications for rapid freezing and blood storage.

Chemical compounds of nitrogen:

There are many compounds that are having nitrogen and some are mentioned below
  1. Ammonia is made by reacting elemental hydrogen and nitrogen. The process is a very well-known process called the Haber process. Ammonia will be formed by reacting hydrogen with nitrogen. Ammonia and many other nitrogen compounds like ammonium nitrate are very good fertilizers that are useful for plants.

  2. Nitric acid is another very popular compound of nitrogen that finds many applications in various chemical process industries.

  3. Nitrogen combines with oxygen and forms various oxides which are the main polluting gases that are coming out from many chemical industries.

  4. Nitrous oxide is known as laughing gas and finds applications as an anaesthetic compound.

  5. Nitrogen dioxide is a good oxidizing agent and is used in rockets as fuel.

  6. Azides and nitrides are also very important compounds of nitrogen having many industrial applications.


Nitrogen and oxygen co-exist in the air which is a mixture. But when these two react and form compounds, they are pollutants to the atmosphere. Nitrogen plays an important role in our lives. This is very essential for all living organisms.


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