The element sodium belongs to the family of the alkali metals. Hence, in the periodic table, it is found in Group I, in between lithium and potassium. Chemically, this element is denoted as Na. The man who managed to isolate sodium was noted British chemist Sir Humphry Davy. In 1806, he obtained sodium on passage of electric current through molten sodium hydroxide.
This chemical element is highly reactive in nature. For this reason, it is always found in nature only in the form of compounds and not in any free elemental state. In terms of abundance on the Earth's surface, sodium stands in the sixth position. The most common minerals of sodium are zeolite, cryolite, amphibole, sodaniter, etc. Large quantities of sodium are present in ocean water in the form of sodium chloride. Commercially, sodium is produced by electrolysis of liquidated sodium chloride.
Properties of Sodium
The element sodium is a soft substance with a silvery white color. At room temperature, it is so soft that one can cut sodium with the help of a knife. Sodium has a bright luster which disappears when it is exposed to air. Ideally, in alkali metals, the density increases with an increase in atomic number. However, sodium is an exception, as it has a higher density as compared to potassium. There are 13 isotopes of sodium, out of which only one isotope is found to be stable.
The atomic number of this element is 11 and the atomic mass is 23. Valency of sodium is +1, which means that during a chemical reaction, it donates the single electron present in its outermost orbit to form bonds. When it comes in contact with air, it readily oxidizes to form oxides. This element on reaction with water forms sodium hydroxide. During this reaction, a large amount of heat is released.
Uses of Sodium
Sodium has a large number of uses, both as an element as well as in the form of compounds. It is used in some alloys for improvement in their structure. It is used for the purpose of descaling the surface of many metals. Metallic sodium is helpful in the process of purifying some reactive metals like zirconium from their compounds.
The element sodium is used in making vapor lamps that are used in street lights. These lamps have high efficiency in producing light from electricity. It is used in some nuclear reactors as a heat transfer fluid. It is also used within the hollow valves of some high-performance internal combustion engines for a similar purpose. Sodium acts as a reducing agent in organic synthesis. It is also a key ingredient of soaps along with fatty acids.
Several compounds of this element are also used in a variety of industries. The most widely used compounds are soda ash, common salt, baking soda, caustic soda, borax, sodium nitrate, sodium thiosulfates, etc. They are mainly used in industries like textile, chemical, glass, metal, paper, petroleum, etc.
Sodium plays a crucial role in human life. Its chloride is used as table salt in our daily food. It is also used in the form of brine (salt dissolved into water) for preservation of foods like pickles. This element is helpful in maintaining blood pressure and regulation of fluids in the body. It has a vital role in nerve transmission and contraction of muscles too. However, it can have a negative impact on the health of people who are suffering from salt-sensitive blood pressure.
Due to its high reactivity, storage of pure sodium is a difficult task. It can be explosive if it comes in touch with the moisture present in the air. Therefore, the best way of storing sodium safely is keeping it immersed into liquid hydrocarbons like kerosene.