Oxygen, the most widely occurring element on the Earth, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. It is an active, life-sustaining component of the atmosphere, constituting nearly 21% of volume of the air we breathe. Apart from respiration, there are numerous uses of oxygen, like medical uses, industrial uses, etc. Here’s an in-depth look at its many benefits.
Did You Know?
Joseph Priestley (England), Carl Wilhelm Scheele (German-Swedish), and Antoine Lavoisier (France) are the three people who are often accredited for discovering, obtaining, and naming this chemical element, respectively.
Oxygen is the third most abundantly found element in the universe. It is naturally found in the sun and plays a vital role in the stellar carbon cycle. Being the first member of Group 16 of the periodic table, oxygen is a chemically active element, forming compounds with nearly all the elements except the inert gases. It is paramagnetic in all its three forms; i.e., solid, liquid, and gaseous state. It is denser than air and can be dissolved in water up to a certain extent. Commercially, it can be prepared by the process of liquefaction and fractional distillation of air and through electrolysis of water. It combines directly with various elements to form oxides and is an important constituent of many acids, hydroxides, and various other compounds. When cooled below its boiling point, oxygen turns into a pale blue liquid and when cooled even more, the liquid solidifies while retaining its color.
Although it is a poor conductor of heat and electricity, oxygen supports combustion but does not burn itself in the reaction. The natural oxygen in the atmosphere called diatomic oxygen gas has a molecular mass of 32 while ozone (O3), which is more reactive than natural oxygen, is another allotrope of oxygen formed due to electrical discharges, or ultraviolet light reacting with the atmospheric oxygen. In its molecular form, oxygen is found almost anywhere in the atmosphere.
Now, let us see the different uses that oxygen has in our everyday life and find out more about the importance of this element.
Medical Uses of Oxygen
- All living organisms including animals and plants use oxygen present in the air for respiration — also termed as aerobic respiration. It is a process in which food is burned in living cells in the presence of oxygen to release energy for all the metabolic activities.
- The medical uses of oxygen involve supplying it in packed cylinders to help patients, who find it difficult to breathe, or it is used by mountaineers at high latitudes, underwater divers, astronauts walking in space, etc.
- Oxygen masks are used to ease various medical disorders, like hypoxemia, asthma, heart and vascular diseases.
- Oxygen gas is used to kill bacteria causing gangrene (as it is poisonous for them) and treat carbon monoxide poisoning as well.
Industrial Use of Oxygen
- In industries, it is mainly used for melting, welding and cutting of metals.
- Other uses involve the production of iron and steel in blast furnaces using hot oxygen air. It also burns off carbon impurities. Even in mines, it is employed as a part of explosives for blasting rocks.
- Oxygen is required for yielding antifreeze and polyester polymers. Thereafter, the polymers are employed for making plastics and fabrics.
- The conversion of iron ore into steel needs commercially produced O2.
- In various chemical industries, oxygen is used in the manufacture of nitric acid, sulfuric acid, other compounds, and acids. Oxygen in its most reactive form, i.e., ozone, is used in different chemical reactions to improve the rate of reaction and ensure the fullest possible oxidation of the compounds.
Other Uses of Oxygen
- Atmospheric oxygen is used for combustion to produce energy in automobiles, aeroplanes, ships, generators, industrial process, etc. Liquid oxygen uses include burning of fuel in spacecraft for generating the required thrust in space where there is neither air nor oxygen.
- Rockets require liquid O2 for burning fuel and rendering its lift.
- To ascertain the climatic conditions that existed about a million years ago, scientists evaluate the ratio of isotopes of oxygen-18 and oxygen-16 — in the skeletons of marine organisms.
- Oxygen is also used for environmental protection in domestic and industrial wastewater treatment plants and facilities.In oxyacetylene and oxyhydrogen blow torches, oxygen is used for producing very high temperatures somewhere around 3000º C (5432° F) and 2800º C (5072° F), respectively to melt metals.During welding, the two metal pieces are brought close to each other, and the high-temperature flame is applied at the junction to melt the metals. When the flame is removed, the metal pieces combine and later solidify to join together.While cutting a metal into two parts, the flame is applied to one part until it turns red hot. Then the concentration or amount of oxygen is increased, which oxidizes the red-hot part of the metal, and the oxide is very brittle, or soft, can be broken apart by hitting it with a hammer.
|Atomic Number of O||8|
|Atomic Mass||15.9994 amu|
|Number of Protons/Electrons||8|
|Number of Neutrons||8|
|Melting Point||-218.8 °C|
|Boiling Point||-183.0 °C|
|Density @ 293K||1.429 g/cm3|
- The chemical elements that fall under the Group 16 are known as ‘chalcogens.’ True or False?
- Who is often credited for discovering oxygen?
Answer: Joseph Priestley
- How much percentage of oxygen does water contain?
- Name three common uses of oxygen.
Answer: Oxygen sensor, oxygen masks, and for aircraft propulsion
- Which are the three most abundantly found elements in the universe?
Answer: Hydrogen, helium, and oxygen
This highly essential element is widely used and can be easily taken for granted. Knowing the vital role it plays in all aspects of our life, it is necessary to preserve it.