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    Oxygen Experiments

    Oxygen Background Information


    Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Very vital for life since all major classes of structural molecules in living organisms, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, contain oxygen, as do the major inorganic compounds that comprise animal shells, teeth, and bone.


    Oxygen (O) is a chemical element. In nature, oxygen is a gas with no color or smell. Oxygen is a very important element because it is a part of the air you breathe and the water you drink. Because of this, oxygen supports life. All living things (including humans) need oxygen to live.

    Oxygen was discovered in 1772 by Joseph Priestley. The word oxygen comes from Greek words: oxus (acid) and gennan (generate).

    Water contains oxygen. When one oxygen atom combines with two hydrogen atoms, they form a molecule of water (also written as H2O). This water is required by all living things to live.

    Air also contains oxygen. Air is made of many gases that are mixed together. However, oxygen is especially important because living things use oxygen to get energy from their food.

    Uses of Oxygen

    Combustion: Oxygen is also what makes burning possible. This is called combustion. When something burns or combusts, oxygen combines with another substance and releases heat and light. For instance, when you burn wood, the oxygen in air combines with the wood to create fire. This ability of oxygen has many uses. But, it also makes pure oxygen very dangerous. If pure oxygen touches a flame or spark, it can combust and cause great damage. Combustion is used in many ways. For example, when oxygen is mixed with acetylene, it can create a very hot flame. The hot flame is used in welding, where metal is heated and melted together. Also, oxygen is used to create powerful fuels, which can be used in rockets and jets.

    Production of gas: Pure oxygen can be produced in several ways. In nature, plants produce oxygen by using sunlight, carbon dioxide (another gas) and water. This process is called photosynthesis. Most of the oxygen in the air is produced by photosynthesis. Oxygen can also be created by humans, using a process called electrolysis. In this process, electricity passes through water. As a result, the water molecules break and release oxygen and hydrogen gas.

    Topics of Interest

    Oxygen , from the Greek roots (oxys) (acid, literally "sharp", from the taste of acids) and (-genēs) (producer, literally begetter), is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. It is a member of the chalcogen group on the periodic table, and is a highly reactive nonmetallic period 2 element that readily forms compounds (notably oxides) with almost all other elements. At standard temperature and pressure two atoms of the element bind to form dioxygen, a colorless, odorless, tasteless diatomic gas with the formula O2. Oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe by mass after hydrogen and helium and the most abundant element by mass in the Earth's crust. Diatomic oxygen gas constitutes 20.9% of the volume of air.

    All major classes of structural molecules in living organisms, such as proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, contain oxygen, as do the major inorganic compounds that comprise animal shells, teeth, and bone. Oxygen in the form of O2 is produced from water by cyanobacteria, algae and plants during photosynthesis and is used in cellular respiration for all complex life. Oxygen is toxic to obligately anaerobic organisms, which were the dominant form of early life on Earth until O2 began to accumulate in the atmosphere 2.5 billion years ago. Another form (allotrope) of oxygen, ozone (O3), helps protect the biosphere from ultraviolet radiation with the high-altitude ozone layer, but is a pollutant near the surface where it is a by-product of smog. At even higher low earth orbit altitudes atomic oxygen is a significant presence and a cause of erosion for spacecraft.

    Oxygen was independently discovered by Carl Wilhelm Scheele, in Uppsala, in 1773 or earlier, and Joseph Priestley in Wiltshire, in 1774, but Priestley is often given priority because his publication came out in print first. The name oxygen was coined in 1777 by Antoine Lavoisier, whose experiments with oxygen helped to discredit the then-popular phlogiston theory of combustion and corrosion. Oxygen is produced industrially by fractional distillation of liquefied air, use of zeolites to remove carbon dioxide and nitrogen from air, electrolysis of water and other means. Uses of oxygen include the production of steel, plastics and textiles; rocket propellant; oxygen therapy; and life support in aircraft, submarines, spaceflight and diving.

    Structure: At standard temperature and pressure, oxygen is a colorless, odorless gas with the molecular formula O2, in which the two oxygen atoms are chemically bonded to each other with a spin triplet electron configuration. This bond has a bond order of two, and is often simplified in description as a double bond or as a combination of one two-electron bond and two three-electron bonds.

    There are several known allotropes of oxygen (different forms of oxygen):

    • Free radicals O1 - unstable
    • dioxygen, O2 - colorless
    • ozone, O3 - blue
    • tetraoxygen, O4 - metastable
    • solid oxygen exists in 6 variously colored phases - of which one is O8 and another one metallic

    Oxygen: The common allotrope of elemental oxygen on Earth, O2, is known as dioxygen. Elemental oxygen is most commonly encountered in this form, as about 21% (by volume) of Earth's atmosphere. O2 has a bond length of 121 pm and a bond energy of 498 kJ/mol. Oxygen itself is a colourless gas with a boiling point of -183°C. It can be condensed out of air by cooling with liquid nitrogen, which has a boiling point of -196°C. Liquid oxygen is pale blue in colour, and is quite markedly paramagnetic : liquid oxygen contained in a flask suspended by a string is attracted to a magnet.

    Singlet oxygen is the common name used for the diamagnetic form of molecular oxygen (O2), which is less stable than the normal triplet oxygen. Because of its unusual properties, singlet oxygen can persist for over an hour at room temperature, depending on the environment. Because of the differences in their electron shells, singlet and triplet oxygen differ in their chemical properties. The damaging effects of sunlight on many organic materials (polymers, etc.) are often attributed to the effects of singlet oxygen.

    Ozone (O3) is a triatomic molecule, consisting of three oxygen atoms. It is an allotrope of oxygen that is much less stable than the diatomic allotrope (O2). Ozone in the lower atmosphere is an air pollutant with harmful effects on the respiratory systems of animals; however, the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere is beneficial, preventing potentially damaging ultraviolet light from reaching the Earth's surface. Ozone is present in low concentrations throughout the Earth's atmosphere. It has many industrial and consumer applications.

    Tetraoxygen had been suspected to exist since the early 1900s, when it was known as oxozone, and was identified in 2001 by a team led by F. Cacace at the University of Rome. The molecule O4 was thought to be in one of the phases of solid oxygen later identified as O8. Cacace's team think that O4 probably consists of two dumbbell-like O2 molecules loosely held together by induced dipole dispersion forces.

    Solid oxygen: There are 6 known distinct phases of solid oxygen. One of them is a dark-red O8 cluster. When oxygen is subjected to a pressure of 96 GPa, it becomes metallic, in a similar manner as hydrogen, and becomes more similar to the heavier chalcogens, such as tellurium and polonium, both of which show significant metallic character. At very low temperatures, this phase also becomes superconducting.

    Liquid oxygen (also LOx, LOX or Lox in the aerospace, submarine and gas industry) is a form of the element oxygen. It has a pale blue color and is strongly paramagnetic and can be suspended between the poles of a powerful horse shoe magnet. Liquid oxygen has a density of 1.141 g/cm³ (1.141 kg/L) and is cryogenic (freezing point: 50.5 K (-368.77 °F; −222.65 °C), boiling point: 90.19 K (−297.33 °F, −182.96 °C) at 101.325 kPa (760 mmHg). In commerce, liquid oxygen is classified as an industrial gas and is widely used for industrial and medical purposes. Liquid oxygen is obtained from the oxygen found naturally in air by fractional distillation. Liquid oxygen has an expansion ratio of 861:1 at 68 °F (20 °C); and because of this, it is used in some commercial and military aircraft as a source of breathing oxygen.

    There are three stable isotopes of oxygen that lead to oxygen (O) having a standard atomic mass of 15.9994(3) u. 10 unstable isotopes have also been characterized.

    The silicate minerals make up the largest and most important class of rock-forming minerals, constituting approximately 90 percent of the crust of the Earth. They are classified based on the structure of their silicate group. Silicate minerals all contain silicon and oxygen.

    Biological role:

    Photosynthesis and respiration: In nature, free oxygen is produced by the light-driven splitting of water during oxygenic photosynthesis. Green algae and cyanobacteria in marine environments provide about 70% of the free oxygen produced on earth and the rest is produced by terrestrial plants.

    A simplified overall formula for photosynthesis is:

    6CO2 + 6H2O + photons → C6H12O6 + 6O2 (or simply: carbon dioxide + water + sunlight → glucose + dioxygen)

    Origin of life: Free oxygen gas was almost nonexistent in Earth's atmosphere before photosynthetic archaea and bacteria evolved. Free oxygen first appeared in significant quantities during the Paleoproterozoic era (between 2.5 and 1.6 billion years ago). At first, the oxygen combined with dissolved iron in the oceans to form banded iron formations. Free oxygen started to gas out of the oceans 2.7 billion years ago, reaching 10% of its present level around 1.7 billion years ago. The presence of large amounts of dissolved and free oxygen in the oceans and atmosphere may have driven most of the anaerobic organisms then living to extinction during the oxygen catastrophe about 2.4 billion years ago. However, cellular respiration using O2 enables aerobic organisms to produce much more ATP than anaerobic organisms, helping the former to dominate Earth's biosphere.


    One of the first known experiments on the relationship between combustion and air was conducted by the second century BCE Greek writer on mechanics, Philo of Byzantium. In his work Pneumatica, Philo observed that inverting a vessel over a burning candle and surrounding the vessel's neck with water resulted in some water rising into the neck. Philo incorrectly surmised that parts of the air in the vessel were converted into the classical element fire and thus were able to escape through pores in the glass. Many centuries later Leonardo da Vinci built on Philo's work by observing that a portion of air is consumed during combustion and respiration.

    In the late 17th century, Robert Boyle proved that air is necessary for combustion. English chemist John Mayow refined this work by showing that fire requires only a part of air that he called spiritus nitroaereus or just nitroaereus. In one experiment he found that placing either a mouse or a lit candle in a closed container over water caused the water to rise and replace one-fourteenth of the air's volume before extinguishing the subjects. From this he surmised that nitroaereus is consumed in both respiration and combustion.

    Phlogiston theory: Robert Hooke, Ole Borch, Mikhail Lomonosov, and Pierre Bayen all produced oxygen in experiments in the 17th and the 18th century but none of them recognized it as an element. This may have been in part due to the prevalence of the philosophy of combustion and corrosion called the phlogiston theory, which was then the favored explanation of those processes.

    Discovery: Oxygen was first discovered by Swedish pharmacist Carl Wilhelm Scheele. He had produced oxygen gas by heating mercuric oxide and various nitrates by about 1772. Scheele called the gas 'fire air' because it was the only known supporter of combustion, and wrote an account of this discovery in a manuscript he titled Treatise on Air and Fire, which he sent to his publisher in 1775. However, that document was not published until 1777.

    In the meantime, on August 1, 1774, an experiment conducted by the British clergyman Joseph Priestley focused sunlight on mercuric oxide (HgO) inside a glass tube, which liberated a gas he named 'dephlogisticated air'. He noted that candles burned brighter in the gas and that a mouse was more active and lived longer while breathing it. After breathing the gas himself, he wrote: "The feeling of it to my lungs was not sensibly different from that of common air, but I fancied that my breast felt peculiarly light and easy for some time afterwards." Priestley published his findings in 1775 in a paper titled "An Account of Further Discoveries in Air" which was included in the second volume of his book titled Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air. Because he published his findings first, Priestley is usually given priority in the discovery.

    The noted French chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier later claimed to have discovered the new substance independently. However, Priestley visited Lavoisier in October 1774 and told him about his experiment and how he liberated the new gas. Scheele also posted a letter to Lavoisier on September 30, 1774 that described his own discovery of the previously unknown substance, but Lavoisier never acknowledged receiving it (a copy of the letter was found in Scheele's belongings after his death).

    The Oxygen cycle is the biogeochemical cycle that describes the movement of oxygen within and between its three main reservoirs: the atmosphere (air), the total content of biological matter within the biosphere (the global sum of all ecosystems), and the lithosphere (Earth's crust). Failures in the oxygen cycle within the hydrosphere (the combined mass of water found on, under, and over the surface of a planet) can result in the development of hypoxic zones. The main driving factor of the oxygen cycle is photosynthesis, which is responsible for the modern Earth's atmosphere and life.

    Oxygen toxicity is a condition resulting from the harmful effects of breathing molecular oxygen (O2) at elevated partial pressures. It is also known as oxygen toxicity syndrome, oxygen intoxication, and oxygen poisoning. Historically, the central nervous system condition was called the Paul Bert effect, and the pulmonary condition the Lorrain Smith effect, after the researchers who pioneered its discovery and description in the late 19th century. Severe cases can result in cell damage and death, with effects most often seen in the central nervous system, lungs and eyes. Oxygen toxicity is a concern for scuba divers, those on high concentrations of supplemental oxygen (particularly premature babies), and those undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

    An oxygen mask provides a method to transfer breathing oxygen gas from a storage tank to the lungs. Oxygen masks may cover the nose and mouth (oral nasal mask) or the entire face (full-face mask). They may be made of plastic, silicone, or rubber.

    Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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