Properties of Hydrogen & Oxygen


Among the first concepts students of chemistry learn about are elements. Elements are the pure, base materials of which everything is composed. Their properties are the result of the number of protons and electrons that constitute their individual atoms. Hydrogen and oxygen are both elements with bonding properties important to life on earth.


  • Hydrogen is the first element on the periodic table, consisting of one proton and one electron. This makes it the lightest element by atomic weight (all other elements have more than one proton) and is estimated to be the most abundant element in the universe and on Earth. Because the element itself is lighter than air, it was initially used in gaseous form to float lighter-than-air craft such as dirigibles. However, its other property, being highly volatile and flammable, cut this practice short after the passenger dirigibles "Hindenburg" caught fire and killed many on board in 1937. On the periodic table, it is in the first group, and in the s-block of elements. It has a natural state of being a gas at 298 degrees Kelvin (K), or 76 degrees F. The element must be manipulated in a laboratory to induce a liquid or solid state. To achieve a solid state, it must be cooled below 14 degrees K (-434 F). To achieve a liquid state, it must be pressurized at a temperature below 33 degrees K (-400 F).


  • Oxygen is the eighth element in the periodic table, having a eight protons and eight electrons. It is in the 16th block of the periodic table and in the p-group of elements. It has a standard state of being a gas at 298 degrees Kelvin (K), or 76 degrees F. To achieve a liquid state it must be brought below 90.2 degrees K (-218 F), and to achieve a solid state it must be brought below 54.8 K (-218 F). Oxygen is a very reactive element, and combines with most elements known to form oxides. It plays an essential role in respiration in both plants and animals. Oxygen makes up about 21 percent of earth's atmosphere and about 50 percent of the Earth's crust.


  • Oxygen and hydrogen bond to form compounds, the most prevalent one on Earth consisting of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen (H2O). This compound is more commonly known as water. It is the dominant substance in all forms of life on Earth, and covers the majority of planet Earth. The compound has many useful properties, including a high specific heat. A material's specific heat is a number representing how much energy must be absorbed by that material for its temperature to rise. Consequently, water plays an important role in regulating the temperature of the planet by being able to absorb large amounts of energy from the sun every day.


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