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What is Oxygen?

Oxygen being supplied to a patient with an oxygen mask.
Oxygen has an atomic number of eight and is found in great abundance on Earth.
The atomic number of fluorine is number 9 on the periodic table of elements, and is identified with the symbol F.
Tanks of oxygen for oxygen therapy.
The trachea and bronchi allow oxygen to enter the lungs for breathing.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 July 2014
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Oxygen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gaseous chemical element which appears in great abundance on Earth, trapped by the atmosphere. Many people are familiar with oxygen, because it is a vital component of the respiration process; without oxygen, most organisms will die within minutes. A number of forms of oxygen and oxygen compounds can be found in nature. Oxygen can also be isolated and sold in pure form for an assortment of uses, and was first isolated and identified in 1774.

The atomic number of oxygen is eight, and it is identified by an O symbol on the periodic table of elements. In addition to being very widely distributed on Earth, oxygen is also the third most abundant element in the universe, and it is a key catalyst in many chemical reactions. Oxidation is one such reaction, and it occurs when oxygen mixes with other elements and compounds. Oxygen also plays a role in combustion.

There are several ways to extract pure oxygen. Water can be ionized, forcing the oxygen and hydrogen atoms to separate. More commonly, however, samples of air are cooled into a liquid form and then slowly heated. As the air heats, elements precipitate out in a process called fractional distillation, because different gaseous elements convert to a gas form at different temperatures. Once extracted, the oxygen can be bottled for use.

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In medicine, oxygen has a number of uses. It is sometimes offered therapeutically, to patients who are having difficulty breathing. It is also used in anesthesia mixtures, ensuring that the patient gets a consistent supply of oxygen while unconscious. The element also plays a role in welding and industry, being combined with substances like acetylene, for example, to make welding torches.

Although pure oxygen is used medicinally and recreationally, as it brings about a state of mild euphoria, it is potentially dangerous. In high pressure environments, oxygen toxicity can damage the lungs, often quite severely. Depending on the pressure, symptoms may emerge right away, or they may take several hours to manifest, at which point it can be too late. Oxygen also represents a serious combustion hazard, and some oxygen compounds such as ozone and hydrogen peroxide are extremely toxic. These compounds can damage cells and DNA if they are left unchecked. Living organisms should consume a diet high in antioxidants to help avert one form of this damage, caused by free radicals in the body.

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Discuss this Article

anon273268
Post 44

What is oxygen used for?

anon268647
Post 43

Why is oxygen such a reactive element?

anon265797
Post 40

Why do we breathe in oxygen?

anon241100
Post 38

Oxygen is not dangerous.

anon229958
Post 37

Oxygen concentrators are quite amazing. They help so many people with respiratory problems by concentrating air with oxygen and delivering it to them. The best part of that is that now those who couldn't go out and do things because they were confined to their home are now able to get out and move around and do the things that they weren't able to do before. I love it. Technology is amazing.

anon172405
Post 36

how does oxygen deal with our blood?

anon158558
Post 34

how many experiments can you do with oxygen?

anon147430
Post 32

what is oxygen most commonly found in or used for?

anon122624
Post 31

Where can oxygen be found?

anon109556
Post 29

what are molecules and atoms?

anon86505
Post 26

why can't you see or taste oxygen?

anon73095
Post 25

why is oxygen not seen?

anon73094
Post 24

oxygen is healthful to people.

anon69428
Post 23

where do gases come from?

anon69427
Post 22

carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.

hydrogen with small amount of helium is in the sun.

the sun is a star (closest star to Earth).

anon68956
Post 21

why can oxygen not be seen?

anon57240
Post 16

what is oxygen used for?

anon57169
Post 15

what uses could oxygen have when on a different planet?

anon49282
Post 13

Is oxygen dangerous?

anon47443
Post 11

oxidation process is harmful or not?

anon46724
Post 8

Does everyone have cancer?

anon37283
Post 7

Is oxygen flammable

anon21496
Post 6

how does oxygen work?

anon6651
Post 2

what are the first most abundant elements of the universe? i'm just wondering... this site is useful thanks :)

littlecircle
Post 1

What types of ions is oxygen likely to form?

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