Daniel Rutherford of Scotland
Necessary for all life.
Named from the Greek words meaning “nitre forming,” nitre being an ancient common name for the compound potassium nitrate. Nitrogen is a colorless and odorless gas. In its natural state, it is fairly unreactive. However, under certain circumstances, it reacts extensively with a variety of compounds. Nitrogen makes up 78% of the Earth’s atmosphere, but it is uncommon anywhere else. Nitrogen is used extensively, being a key component in explosives, plastics, drugs and dyes and an essential element to the fertilizer industry. Liquid nitrogen is used for many cryogenic activities.
Nitrogen is a critical element for life. It is one of the six bulk elements and the fourth most common element in the human body. Nitrogen is an important constituent of DNA, nucleic acids and proteins. The nitrogen cycle, whereby chemical processes make atmospheric nitrogen available for use in plants and animals and then it is subsequently returned to the atmosphere, is a critical process for life.
Role in Life Processes
Percentage Amount in the Human Body: 2.57%
Nitrogen is chiefly obtained by reacting air with hydrogen from natural gas to make ammonia. Nitrogen-bearing minerals are fairly uncommon and include nitratine (sodium nitrate), nitrammite (ammonium nitrate), nitrobarite (barium nitrate), nitrocalcite and nitromagnesite. Nitrogen fixed as ammonia compounds is produced for use as fertilizers in the USA, India, Canada, Netherlands and Mexico.