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Q & A: Nitrogen

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
I need a picture of a nitrogen atom for a school project, please. I also need to be able to explain how the nitrogen atom works. Thanks!
- Daniel (age 10)
Holladay Elementary, Richmond, VA
A:
Daniel -

You can start by looking at the answer to the question for a good description of how protons, neutrons, and electrons come together to make an atom.

Nitrogen is an atom that has 7 protons, 7 neutrons, and 7 electrons. The neutrons and protons are all stuck together in the middle of the atom and are called the nucleus. The 7 electrons are much much smaller than the nucleus and spin around it in things called orbits. The inner orbit contains two electrons, and the other 5 electrons are in the second orbit. This is a picture that I found of a Nitrogen atom. (It's not the best picture, though, because it makes it look like the electrons are a lot bigger than the nucleus, and they're actually a lot smaller.)



The nitrogen atom can stick to other atoms because that second orbit (the one with 5 electrons in it) would actually prefer to have 8 electrons in it. So it will stick to other atoms in order to share some of their electrons in between. This is why if all you have is nitrogen atoms, they will usually stick together to make N2 (a gas), where each molecule has two nitrogen atoms that are stuck together. (3 electrons get shared between them, so it's like they each has 8.)

For everything else you could ever have wanted to know about nitrogen, you can check out . They have information about how nitrogen reacts, the history of scientists studying nitrogen, and lots of cool pictures (like the one above) of things that have to do with nitrogen. They even have a really cool movie of what happens when you touch a chemical called 'nitrogen triiodide (NI3).'

-Tamara

(published on 10/22/2007)

Follow-Up #1: Possible nitrogen hazards?

Q:
Are there any possible warnings or hazards for the nitrogen Atom?
- Taylor (age **)
Hazelton P.A USA
A:
Well, since about 78% of the air we breathe is nitrogen gas it can't be all bad.  On the other hand if there is too much of it, i.e. not enough oxygen,  we can't live.   Nitrogen  combines with other elements to form a wide variety of compounds.  Some, like nitrate fertilizers are
beneficial. Other nitrogen compounds, like TNT, are potentially hazardous to your health. "Moderation in all things" is a good motto.

LeeH

(published on 10/22/2007)

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