What Are the Characteristics & Uses of Hydrogen?


Hydrogen derives its name from the Greek words hydro and genes, which translate as "water" and "generate." This name was given to the element by Antoine Lavoisier in 1783 after it was first identified by Henry Cavendish in 1766. Hydrogen can be found in large quantities on Earth and even more so elsewhere in the universe. The element plays an important role in nature and industry.

Chemical Structure

  • The chemical structure of hydrogen is extremely simple. Hydrogen atoms usually consist of just one electron and one proton. The substance is formed from diatomic molecules, meaning that two hydrogen atoms join together to form a molecule. Hydrogen atoms form very strong bonds. This is important for life on Earth because these strong bonds mean that water must reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit before it boils. Without these strong bonds, the water that life on Earth relies upon could boil at very low temperatures and would not be able to exist in its liquid state on Earth.


  • Hydrogen is the lightest of all elements and has the lowest density. At room temperature, hydrogen is a gas. It becomes a liquid at temperatures below -423 degrees Fahrenheit and can only exist in its solid state at temperatures below -435 degrees Fahrenheit, approximately. Hydrogen has no color, taste or smell and is highly flammable. H2O, or water, is produced when this combustible gas burns in the air.

Hydrogen in Nature

  • On Earth, hydrogen is the third most common element and is mostly found in water molecules. Only a very small amount of hydrogen is present in the atmosphere. This is because its low density prevents Earth's gravity from containing it within the limits of the atmosphere. Elsewhere in the universe, hydrogen is more plentiful. Some planets are composed of more hydrogen than any other element. It is also a major component of the Sun and stars, which produce energy from it in a process called fusion. About nine atoms out of every 10 in the universe are hydrogen atoms.


  • One of the chief uses of hydrogen is in industries that require chemical reactions. An example is its application in the process of manufacturing ammonia which is commonly used in fertilizers. Hydrogen is also used to extract pure metals from metal oxides. Another use of hydrogen is in the field of cryogenics, which looks at causes and effects of extremely low temperatures.

    Hydrogen is used as a fuel for rockets and it might provide a green alternative to fossil fuels for other vehicles in the future. Currently the extraction process is too expensive for this to be a viable option.


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