16 Aug 2019

Nitrogen - a vital powerhouse

From Elemental, 8:00 am on 16 August 2019

Eighty percent of each breath we take is nitrogen gas.

It is ironic that the French word for nitrogen, azote, means “without life’, when most important biological molecules contain nitrogen.

Nitrogen molecules are held together by one of the strongest bonds in chemistry. If you could obtain the energy contained in the bonds in a mere 28 grams of nitrogen gas you could use It boil 3 kg of water (starting at room temperature).

Fortunately, nature can break these bonds using the enzyme nitrogenase.

Nitrogen   (symbol N, atomic number 7) is an important component of some vitamins. And the name vitamins, by the way, comes from ‘vital amines’; amines being organic compounds containing one or more nitrogen atoms.

Nitrogen is a life-saving explosive that is used in airbags in cars, says Allan Blackman in ep 54 of Elemental.

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Photo: RNZ

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The Elemental podcast is celebrating 150 years since the periodic table was first published by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.

Find out more about events during the United Nation’s International Year of the Periodic Table.

Professor Allan Blackman is at Auckland University of Technology.