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Nitrogen Family

Daniel Rutherford, a Scottish Physician, discovered Nitrogen in 1772. But it was Lavoisier, who proved that nitrogen is an element and that it was not a supporter of combustion and respiration. He called it 'azote' meaning 'no life'. The name 'Nitrogen' was given to it by Jean Antoine Chaptal (1756 - 1832), in the year 1790.

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Occurrence of Nitrogen

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  1. Nitrogen exists in the free state and in combined form in the atmosphere of the earth.
  2. In the free state it occurs as N2 and occupies about 80% by volume of air.
  3. In the combined form, it is present as ammonia and all ammonium compounds, in nitric acid and in all nitrates, nitrites and in all living things in the form of proteins.

Preparation of Nitrogen from Air

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The chief source of free nitrogen is atmospheric air and nitrogen is usually prepared from it. Air free from dust, water vapour and carbon dioxide is compressed in a compression chamber for liquefaction.

Firstly, the pressure on the air is increased to about 200 atmospheres. It is then released through a spiral into a low-pressure area, where intense cooling of the air takes place.

Preparation of Nitrogen From Chemical Compounds

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Ammonia and Ammonium Compounds

By treating excess ammonia with chlorine, ammonium chloride and nitrogen are formed.
Preparation of Nitrogen

Laboratory Preparation of Nitrogen

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In the laboratory, nitrogen is prepared by heating a mixture of ammonium chloride and sodium nitrite and a small quantity of water. If ammonium nitrite is heated by itself, it decomposes to produce nitrogen gas. However, this reaction is very fast and may prove to be explosive.
Laboratory Preparation of Nitrogen

Physical Properties of Nitrogen

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  • Color: Nitrogen is a colorless gas.
  • Odor: It has no odor.
  • Taste: It is a tasteless gas.
  • It provides an inter atmosphere.
  • Liquid nitrogen is colorless and odorless but resembles water in appearance.
  • Nitrogen exists in two allotropic forms a and b, with a transition temperature of -237° C.
  • Density of nitrogen is 1.25 x 10-3 at 20°C
  • Melting point of nitrogen is -210 °C
  • Boiling point of nitrogen is -195.8 °C

Chemical Properties of Nitrogen

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Combination with elements. Nitrogen does not easily combine with other elements under ordinary conditions. A molecule of nitrogen is diatomic. These two atoms have combined by mutually sharing three pairs of electrons.
  • Nitrogen forms compounds through biological activity, at high or moderate temperature in the presence of catalysts.
  • It forms nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide with oxygen.
  • Its reacts with hydrogen to give ammonia.
  • It gives nitrogen sulfide when treated with sulfur.
  • At very high temperatures nitrogen can combine with certain active metals, such as lithium, magnesium and titanium to form metal nitrides.
  • It is not a supporter of combustion.
  • Energy of first ionization: 1402 kJ.mol -1
  • Energy of second ionization: 2856 kJ.mol -1
  • Energy of third ionization: 4577 kJ.mol -1
  • Electronegativity according to Pauling: 3.0

Compounds of nitrogen

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Nitrogen has 5 electrons in its valence shell. It has a valency of 3 with respect to hydrogen and a valency up to 5 with respect to oxygen. So, it can combine with various elements to form many compounds.
The well known compounds of nitrogen are
  1. Hydrazine
  2. Hydrazoic acid
  3. Hydroxylamine
  4. Nitrous oxide
  5. Nitric oxide
  6. Di nitrogen trioxide
  7. Nitrogen dioxide


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  1. This compound can be regarded as being formed by replacing one H atom of NH3 molecule by NH2 group. This was first prepared by Curtius in 1889.
  2. Free hydrazine is a colorless liquid, very hygroscopic and soluble in alcohol and water. It is not very stable.
  3. On exposure to air, it readily absorbs carbon dioxide and moisture.
  4. It dissolves sulfur, arsenic, selenium and phosphorus. Its boiling point is 113.5°C and melting point is 1.4°C.

Hydrazoic acid

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  1. This is also called as azoemide.
  2. The formula of hydrazoic acid is N3H.
  3. This is a colorless volatile liquid. Its boiling point is 37°C.
  4. It is extremely poisonous and dissociates into N2 and H2 with the evolution of a large amount of heat.
2NH3 $\to$ 3N2 + H2 + Heat ( 123.2 kcal)


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  • It is a hydroxy derivative of NH3 and was discovered by Lossen in 1865.
  • As a rule only the salts of hydroxylamine are prepared because the preparation of free hydroxylamine is difficult and not without hazards under some conditions.
  • It is a needle-like white substance.
  • Melting point is 33°C and boiling point is 58°C at 22 mm pressure.
  • It decomposes at steam temperature.
  • It is readily soluble in water but not much in alcohol.
  • It can be crystallized out from its ethereal solution.
  • Its solution in water is a weak base.
NH2OH + H2O $\to$ NH3OH + + H -
  • It explodes with halogen and also with permanganate and dichromate.
  • It is very unstable and the solid decomposes slowly above 15°C.

Nitric Oxide

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  • This oxide is also called as nitrous oxide and is produced when a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen is passed through an electric arc.
N2 + O2 $\to$ 2NO
  • It is a colorless gas, heavier than air and very sparingly soluble in water.
  • Under pressure, it changes to a colorless liquid under -151°C.
  • The gas is neutral to litmus solution.
  • It combines with O2 to form brown fumes and nitrogen peroxide(NO2).
  • It reacts with burning charcoal, S, P to give oxides.

Nitrous Oxide

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  • The formula of this oxide is N2O.
  • When this oxide is inhaled in small quantities, it produces hysterical laughter and for this reason this oxide is also called as laughing gas.
  • It is prepared by heating a mixture of NaNO3 and (NH4)2SO4.
2NaNO3 + (NH4)2SO4 $\to$ Na2SO4 + 2N2O + 4H2O
  • Nitrous oxide is a colorless gas having a faint, sweetish smell and a sweet taste.
  • When inhaled for a long time, it produces insensibility.
  • Large quantities may prove fatal.
  • This is soluble in water and the solution has a sweetish taste.
  • That is why it is collected over hot water.
  • It is heavier than air. It can easily be liquified at 0°C and at a pressure of 30 atm.
  • The liquid boils at -89.5°C.
  • The gas is neutral to litmus.

Di nitrogen Trioxide

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  • The formula is N2O3.
  • This oxide is also called nitrogen sesquioxide.
  • It is also called nitrous anhydride. This means it is the anhydride of HNO2, since it gives HNO2 when heated with H2O.
N2O3 + H2O $\to$ 2HNO2
  • Nitrogen trioxide is prepared by the reduction of nitric acid with arsenious oxide.
As2O3 + 2HNO3 + 2H2O $\to$ N2O3 + 2H3AsO4
  • It is a red colored gas.
  • On condensing, it gives a dark blue liquid.
  • It is acidic in nature and reacts with sodium hydroxide to form sodium nitrite.
2NaOH + N2O3 $\to$ 2NaNO2 + H2O

Uses of Nitrogen

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  1. Nitrogen is used in high temperature thermometers where mercury cannot be used.
  2. This is because mercury boils at 356.7oC and hence cannot be used in such thermometers.
  3. A volume of nitrogen is enclosed in a vessel and introduced into the region of high temperature.
  4. Depending upon the temperature, expansion of the nitrogen takes place.
  5. Then applying the gas equation, the temperature is calculated
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