International Year of the Periodic Table: Nitr…


2019 has been declared by UNESCO as the Year of the Periodic Table. To celebrate, we are releasing a series of blogs about our favourite elements and their importance to the chemical industry. Today’s blog is about the various uses of nitrogen.


Nitrogen – an imperative part of DNA

The polymer that makes up the genetic code of is a sequence of
nitrogen bases laid out on a backbone of sugar and phosphate molecules and blended
into a double helix. 

The nitrogen bases are translated into proteins and
enzymes which regulate most our system’s biochemical reactions. 


Explosive potential

RDX is a nitrogen explosive. This means its explosive properties
are primarily caused by the presence of many nitrogen–nitrogen bonds, which
are extremely unstable, especially as nitrogen atoms want to come together to
produce nitrogen gas due to the triple bond. 

Ultimately, the more nitrogen–nitrogen
bonds a molecule has, the more explosive it is. RDX is normally combined with
other chemicals to make it less sensitive or less likely to explode.


One of the most powerful explosive chemicals is PETN, containing
nitro groups and nitroglycerin in dynamite. Despite its powerful explosions,
the chemical rarely will detonate alone. PETN was used frequently during World
War II, whereby PETN was used to create exploding bridgewire detonators, using
electric currents for detonations.

Among the least stable explosives is aziroazide azide
with 14 unstable nitrogen bonds, most of them bonded into unstable nitrogen–nitrogen
bonds. Touching or handling this chemical can cause it to detonate, making it one
of the most dangerous non-nuclear chemicals.

Nitrogen and plants


Nitrogen plays a significant role for plants to keep
healthy. Plants usually contain 3-4% nitrogen
in their above-ground tissues. Nitrogen is a major component of chlorophyll
which plants use to capture sunlight energy to produce sugars, and a major
component of amino acids, which are the building blocks of life.

Overall, nitrogen is a significant component to DNA, a key
nutrient to plants, and the uses of nitrogen in everyday life span across
various chemical industries including the production of fertilisers and

Tiffany Hionas is a Digital Media Intern at SCI. You can find more of her work here.

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