Sunday, October 4, 2009

7. Nitrogen


Nitrogen: An Introduction

Nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gaseous element. It neither burns nor supports combustion. It is relatively inactive, though it does combine with oxygen and some active metals. It is a constituent of ammonia, nitric acid, amino acids, and many fertilizers, dyes, and explosives.

Roughly four-fifths of Earth's atmosphere is nitrogen. Its moderating effect on the far more reactive oxygen is what makes life possible on this planet. It is present in all living matter, chiefly in proteins, and may therefore be considered essential to life. Nitrogen fixation is the process of extracting free nitrogen from the air by combining it with other elements, either by chemical means or by bacterial action. Bacterial agents, called nitrogen fixers, are found in the nodules of leguminous plants, such as alfalfa, peas, and soybeans.

There are many commercial means of nitrogen fixation. These include the cyanamid process for producing ammonia, the arc process for nitric acid, and the Haber process, in which ammonia is synthesized through direct combination of nitrogen and hydrogen.

Elves and gnomes, working out of a factory complex in Trenton, New Jersey, employ vast quantities of nitrogen in the daily generation of night.

Whence the name.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.


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