The elements of group 16 in the periodic table―oxygen, sulfur, selenium, tellurium, and polonium―are together known as chalcogens. Each of them influence our lives on a daily basis, and are useful in numerous ways. Here, we’ll look at the uses of each of these chalcogens more closely.
Did You Know
More than 100 million metric tons of oxygen is produced each year around the world through the process of fractional distillation of air, which is used for various industrial and medical purposes.
Chalcogens, also known as the oxygen family, are considered as some of the main group elements in the periodic table. These elements can be found naturally in both, free as well as combined states. Oxygen, sulfur, and selenium were recognized as a group in 1829. Tellurium and polonium were later added to this group in 1865 and 1898, respectively.
The metallic character, melting point, boiling point, density, ionic radius, and atomic radius increases as you go down the group from oxygen to polonium. On the other hand, ionization energy reduces as we go down the table. These elements are required by plants and animals to perform a number of life-functions, and apart from their biological uses, chalcogens are important to us due to their numerous industrial uses too.
Uses of Chalcogens
- Everyone knows oxygen is essential for the survival of life on Warth. It is needed by plants and animals to create Adenosine-Triphosphate, and to process DNA, water, and amino acids in the body. In fact, more than half of an average human body is composed of oxygen compounds.
- It is also important to note that ozone, an allotrope of oxygen, is essential in protecting us from harmful UV rays from the sun.
- More than half of all the oxygen produced in the world goes into making steel.
- A large amount of pure oxygen is used by chemical manufacturing industries.
- Oxygen is also used to create rocket fuel, and in the process of cutting metals.
- Pure oxygen is utilized to purify and treat hard or contaminated water.
- It is also used in the medical field as part of the treatment against severe illnesses.
- Both, plants and animals require sulfur to process nutrients. While humans need only a little sulfur, it is a very important part of our diet. On an average, a person consumes about 900 mg each day. This element also helps purify the liver of harmful metals.
- Skunks use sulfur in their spray, which is what gives it the strong smell.
- Sulfur is used in large amounts by chemical industries to produce sulfuric acid.
- It has also been used since ancient times as gun powder, and other weaponry such as Greek fire.
- Sulfur is used to vulcanize rubber, which gives it strength and resistance to wear and tear.
- Sulfur is also used in manufacturing phosphoric acid, fireworks, pesticides, fertilizers, and concrete.
- A majority of all selenium produced is used in the production of glass.
- Selenium is used in the manufacture of printer color pigments.
- This element is used in equipment which rely on light to get electric readings.
- A large amount of selenium is used by the metallurgy industry, especially in the production of manganese.
- Selenium is sometimes used in anti-dandruff shampoos.
- Although it is harmful to the human body, selenium is utilized in trace amounts to activate certain enzymes in the body. It is also known to protect the body from getting poisoned by heavy metal compounds.
- Tellurium is not useful for animal life and most plant life. Only microscopic organisms such as fungi absorb this element as a nutrient.
- Tellurium is used in manufacturing computer disks and other types of sensitive electronic devices like light sensors.
- It is also used as a part of solar power panels.
- Tellurium can be used as a substitute when sulfur is not available during the vulcanization of rubber.
- It is also used to manufacture lubricants, and to process petroleum products.
- Most polonium uses are to do with its radioactivity. It is used in many kinds of research on alpha particles and neutrons.
- This element is sometimes used to power nuclear batteries.
- A major chunk of polonium is used to manufacture anti-static devices.
Other Uses of Chalcogens:
- Organic compounds of chalcogens are often used as semiconductors.
- These elements also form an important part in studying the chemical reactions of elements with non-covalent bonds.
- They are also used in synthetic and biochemistry experiments, and to study atomic particles such as protons, electrons, and neutrons.
As you have seen, chalcogens have many uses. As technological advancements are made, research on these elements show a lot of scope for biotechnology and medicine, and a number of industrial production methods too.