AskDefine | Define oxygen

Dictionary Definition

oxygen n : a nonmetallic bivalent element that is normally a colorless odorless tasteless nonflammable diatomic gas; constitutes 21 percent of the atmosphere by volume; the most abundant element in the earth's crust [syn: O, atomic number 8]

User Contributed Dictionary



Borrowed from oxygène (originally in the form principe oxygène, a variant of principe oxigine ‘acidifying principle’, suggested by Lavoisier), from (oxus) sharp + (genos) birth, referring to oxygen's role in the formation of acids.


  • /ɒksɪʤən̩/


  1. A chemical element (symbol O) with an atomic number of 8 and relative atomic mass of 15.9994.
  2. Molecular oxygen (O2), a colorless, odorless gas at room temperature.
  3. A mixture of oxygen and other gases, administered to a patient to help him or her to breathe.
  4. An atom of this element.


chemical element
atom of oxygen
  • Japanese: 酸素, 酸素原子 (さんそげんし, sanso genshi)
  • Korean: 산소 (酸素, sanso)


External links

For etymology and more information refer to: (A lot of the translations were taken from that site with permission from the author)

See also

Extensive Definition

Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. It is a member of the chalcogen group on the periodic table, and is a highly reactive nonmetallic period 2 element that readily forms compounds (notably oxides) with almost all other elements. At standard temperature and pressure two atoms of the element bind to form dioxygen, a colorless, odorless, tasteless diatomic gas with the formula . Oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe by mass after hydrogen and helium and the most abundant element by mass in the Earth's crust. Another form (allotrope) of oxygen, ozone (), helps protect the biosphere from ultraviolet radiation with the high-altitude ozone layer, but is a pollutant near the surface where it is a by-product of smog.
Oxygen was independently discovered by Joseph Priestley in Wiltshire, in 1774, and Carl Wilhelm Scheele, in Uppsala, a year earlier, but Priestley is usually given priority because he published his findings first. The name oxygen was coined in 1777 by Antoine Lavoisier, whose experiments with oxygen helped to discredit the then-popular phlogiston theory of combustion and corrosion. Oxygen is produced industrially by fractional distillation of liquefied air, use of zeolites to remove carbon dioxide and nitrogen from air, electrolysis of water and other means. Uses of oxygen include the production of steel, plastics and textiles; rocket propellant; oxygen therapy; and life support in aircraft, submarines, spaceflight and diving.



At standard temperature and pressure, oxygen is a colorless, odorless gas with the molecular formula , in which the two oxygen atoms are chemically bonded to each other with a spin triplet electron configuration. This bond has a bond order of two, and is often simplified in description as a double bond or as a combination of one two-electron bond and two three-electron bonds.
Triplet oxygen is the ground state of the molecule. The electron configuration of the molecule has two unpaired electrons occupying two degenerate molecular orbitals. These orbitals are classified as antibonding (weakening the bond order from three to two), so the diatomic oxygen bond is weaker than the diatomic nitrogen triple bond in which all bonding molecular orbitals are filled, but some antibonding orbitals are not.
Singlet oxygen, a name given to several higher-energy species of molecular in which all the electron spins are paired, is much more reactive towards common organic molecules. In nature, singlet oxygen is commonly formed from water during photosynthesis, using the energy of sunlight. It is also produced in the troposphere by the photolysis of ozone by light of short wavelength, and by the immune system as a source of active oxygen. Carotenoids in photosynthetic organisms (and possibly also in animals) play a major role in absorbing energy from singlet oxygen and converting it to the unexcited ground state before it can cause harm to tissues.


The common allotrope of elemental oxygen on Earth is called dioxygen, . It has a bond length of 121 pm and a bond energy of 498 kJ·mol-1. This is the form that is used by complex forms of life, such as animals, in cellular respiration (see Biological role) and is the form that is a major part of the Earth's atmosphere (see Occurrence). Other aspects of are covered in the remainder of this article.
Trioxygen () is usually known as ozone and is a very reactive allotrope of oxygen that is damaging to lung tissue. Ozone is produced in the upper atmosphere when combines with atomic oxygen made by the splitting of by ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
The metastable molecule tetraoxygen () was discovered in 2001, and was assumed to exist in one of the six phases of solid oxygen. It was proven in 2006 that that phase, created by pressurizing to 20 GPa, is in fact a rhombohedral cluster. This cluster has the potential to be a much more powerful oxidizer than either or and may therefore be used in rocket fuel. and it was shown in 1998 that at very low temperatures, this phase becomes superconducting.

Physical properties

Oxygen is more soluble in water than nitrogen; water contains approximately 1 molecule of for every 2 molecules of , compared to an atmospheric ratio of approximately 1:4. The solubility of oxygen in water is temperature-dependent, and about twice as much (14.6 mg·L−1) dissolves at 0 °C than at 20 °C (7.6 mg·L−1). At 25 °C and 1 atm of air, freshwater contains about 6.04 milliliters (mL) of oxygen per liter, whereas seawater contains about 4.95 mL per liter. At 5 °C the solubility increases to 9.0 mL (50% more than at 25 °C) per liter for water and 7.2 mL (45% more) per liter for sea water.
Oxygen condenses at 90.20 K (−182.95 °C, −297.31 °F), and freezes at 54.36 K (−218.79 °C, −361.82 °F). Both liquid and solid are clear substances with a light sky-blue color caused by absorption in the red (in contrast with the blue color of the sky, which is due to Rayleigh scattering of blue light). High-purity liquid is usually obtained by the fractional distillation of liquefied air; Liquid oxygen may also be produced by condensation out of air, using liquid nitrogen as a coolant. It is a highly-reactive substance and must be segregated from combustible materials.

Isotopes and stellar origin

Naturally occurring oxygen is composed of three stable isotopes, 16O, 17O, and 18O, with 16O being the most abundant (99.762% natural abundance). Oxygen isotopes range in mass number from 12 to 28. 17O is primarily made by the burning of hydrogen into helium during the CNO cycle, making it a common isotope in the hydrogen burning zones of stars. and is the major component of the world's oceans (88.8% by mass). Earth is unusual among the planets of the Solar System in having such a high concentration of oxygen gas in its atmosphere: Mars (with 0.1% by volume) and Venus have far lower concentrations. However, the surrounding these other planets is produced solely by ultraviolet radiation impacting oxygen-containing molecules such as carbon dioxide.
The unusually high concentration of oxygen on Earth is the result of the oxygen cycle. This biogeochemical cycle describes the movement of oxygen within and between its three main reservoirs on Earth: the atmosphere, the biosphere, and the lithosphere. The main driving factor of the oxygen cycle is photosynthesis, which is responsible for modern Earth's atmosphere. Because of the vast amounts of oxygen gas available in the atmosphere, even if all photosynthesis were to cease completely, it would take all the oxygen-consuming processes at the present rate at least another 5,000 years to strip all the from the atmosphere.
Free oxygen also occurs in solution in the world's water bodies. The increased solubility of at lower temperatures (see Physical properties) has important implications for ocean life, as polar oceans support a much higher density of life due to their higher oxygen content. Polluted water may have reduced amounts of in it, depleted by decaying algae and other biomaterials (see eutrophication). Scientists assess this aspect of water quality by measuring the water's biochemical oxygen demand, or the amount of needed to restore it to a normal concentration.

Biological role

Photosynthesis and respiration

In nature, free oxygen is produced by the light-driven splitting of water during oxygenic photosynthesis. Green algae and cyanobacteria in marine environments provide about 70% of the free oxygen produced on earth and the rest is produced by terrestrial plants.
A simplified overall formula for photosynthesis is:
6 + 6 + photons → + 6 (or simply carbon dioxide + water + sunlight → glucose + dioxygen)
Photolytic oxygen evolution occurs in the thylakoid membranes of photosynthetic organisms and requires the energy of four photons. Many steps are involved, but the result is the formation of a proton gradient across the thylakoid membrane, which is used to synthesize ATP via photophosphorylation. The remaining after oxidation of the water molecule is released into the atmosphere.
Molecular dioxygen, , is essential for cellular respiration in all aerobic organisms. Oxygen is used in mitochondria to help generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP) during oxidative phosphorylation. The reaction for aerobic respiration is essentially the reverse of photosynthesis and is simplified as:
+ 6 → 6 + 6 + 2880 kJ·mol-1
In vertebrates, is diffused through membranes in the lungs and into red blood cells. Hemoglobin binds , changing its color from bluish red to bright red. This amounts to more than 6 billion tonnes of oxygen inhaled by humanity per year.

Build-up in the atmosphere

Free oxygen gas was almost nonexistent in Earth's atmosphere before photosynthetic archaea and bacteria evolved. Free oxygen first appeared in significant quantities during the Paleoproterozoic era (between 2.5 and 1.6 billion years ago). At first, the oxygen combined with dissolved iron in the oceans to form banded iron formations. Free oxygen started to gas out of the oceans 2.7 billion years ago, reaching 10% of its present level around 1.7 billion years ago.
The presence of large amounts of dissolved and free oxygen in the oceans and atmosphere may have driven most of the anaerobic organisms then living to extinction during the oxygen catastrophe about 2.4 billion years ago. However, cellular respiration using O2 enables aerobic organisms to produce much more ATP than anaerobic organisms, helping the former to dominate Earth's biosphere. Photosynthesis and cellular respiration of allowed for the evolution of eukaryotic cells and ultimately complex multicellular organisms such as plants and animals.
Since the beginning of the Cambrian era 540 million years ago, levels have fluctuated between 15% and 30% per volume. Towards the end of the Carboniferous era (about 300 million years ago) atmospheric levels reached a maximum of 35% by volume,


Early experiments

One of the first known experiments on the relationship between combustion and air was conducted by the second century BCE Greek writer on mechanics, Philo of Byzantium. In his work Pneumatica, Philo observed that inverting a vessel over a burning candle and surrounding the vessel's neck with water resulted in some water rising into the neck. Philo incorrectly surmised that parts of the air in the vessel were converted into the classical element fire and thus were able to escape through pores in the glass. Many centuries later Leonardo da Vinci built on Philo's work by observing that a portion of air is consumed during combustion and respiration.
In the late 17th century, Robert Boyle proved that air is necessary for combustion. English chemist John Mayow refined this work by showing that fire requires only a part of air that he called spiritus nitroaereus or just nitroaereus. In one experiment he found that placing either a mouse or a lit candle in a closed container over water caused the water to rise and replace one-fourteenth of the air's volume before extinguishing the subjects. From this he surmised that nitroaereus is consumed in both respiration and combustion.
Mayow observed that antimony increased in weight when heated, and inferred that the nitroaereus must have combined with it. This may have been in part due to the prevalence of the philosophy of combustion and corrosion called the phlogiston theory, which was then the favored explanation of those processes.
Established in 1667 by the German alchemist J. J. Becher, and modified by the chemist Georg Ernst Stahl by 1731, phlogiston theory stated that all combustible materials were made of two parts. One part, called phlogiston, was given off when the substance containing it was burned, while the dephlogisticated part was thought to be its true form, or calx.
Highly combustible materials that leave little residuum, such as wood or coal, were thought to be made mostly of phlogiston; whereas non-combustible substances that corrode, such as iron, contained very little. Air did not play a role in phlogiston theory, nor were any initial quantitative experiments conducted to test the idea; instead, it was based on observations of what happens when something burns, that most common objects appear to become lighter and seem to lose something in the process.
In the meantime, an experiment was conducted by the British clergyman Joseph Priestley on August 1 1774 focused sunlight on mercuric oxide (HgO) inside a glass tube, which liberated a gas he named 'dephlogisticated air'. He noted that candles burned brighter in the gas and that a mouse was more active and lived longer while breathing it. After breathing the gas himself, he wrote: "The feeling of it to my lungs was not sensibly different from that of common air, but I fancied that my breast felt peculiarly light and easy for some time afterwards." Azote later became nitrogen in English, although it has kept the name in French and several other European languages. In 1805, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and Alexander von Humboldt showed that water is formed of two volumes of hydrogen and one volume of oxygen; and by 1811 Amedeo Avogadro had arrived at the correct interpretation of water's composition, based on what is now called Avogadro's law and the assumption of diatomic elemental molecules.
By the late 19th century scientists realized that air could be liquefied, and its components isolated, by compressing and cooling it. Using a cascade method, Swiss chemist and physicist Raoul Pierre Pictet evaporated liquid sulfur dioxide in order to liquefy carbon dioxide, which in turn was evaporated to cool oxygen gas enough to liquefy it. He sent a telegram on December 22 1877 to the French Academy of Sciences in Paris announcing his discovery of liquid oxygen. Just two days later, French physicist Louis Paul Cailletet announced his own method of liquefying molecular oxygen. The first commercially-viable process for producing liquid oxygen was independently developed in 1895 by German engineer Carl von Linde and British engineer William Hampson. Both men lowered the temperature of air until it liquefied and then distilled the component gases by boiling them off one at a time and capturing them. Later, in 1901, oxyacetylene welding was demonstrated for the first time by burning a mixture of acetylene and compressed . This method of welding and cutting metal later became common.

Industrial production

Two major methods are employed to produce the 100 million tonnes of extracted from air for industrial uses annually.
Oxygen gas can also be produced through electrolysis of water into molecular oxygen and hydrogen. A similar method is the electrocatalytic evolution from oxides and oxoacids. Chemical catalysts can be used as well, such as in chemical oxygen generators or oxygen candles that are used as part of the life-support equipment on submarines, and are still part of standard equipment on commercial airliners in case of depressurization emergencies. Another air separation technology involves forcing air to dissolve through ceramic membranes based on zirconium dioxide by either high pressure or an electric current, to produce nearly pure gas. Since the primary cost of production is the energy cost of liquefying the air, the production cost will change as energy cost varies.
For reasons of economy oxygen is often transported in bulk as a liquid in specially-insulated tankers, since one litre of liquefied oxygen is equivalent to 840 liters of gaseous oxygen at atmospheric pressure and 20 °C. Treatments are flexible enough to be used in hospitals, the patient's home, or increasingly by portable devices. Oxygen tents were once commonly used in oxygen supplementation, but have since been replaced mostly by the use of oxygen masks or nasal cannulas.
Hyperbaric (high-pressure) medicine uses special oxygen chambers to increase the partial pressure of around the patient and, when needed, the medical staff. Carbon monoxide poisoning, gas gangrene, and decompression sickness (the 'bends') are sometimes treated using these devices. Increased concentration in the lungs helps to displace carbon monoxide from the heme group of hemoglobin. Oxygen gas is poisonous to the anaerobic bacteria that cause gas gangrene, so increasing its partial pressure helps kill them. Decompression sickness occurs in divers who decompress too quickly after a dive, resulting in bubbles of inert gas, mostly nitrogen and argon, forming in their blood. Increasing the pressure of as soon as possible is part of the treatment. Passengers traveling in (pressurized) commercial airplanes have an emergency supply of automatically supplied to them in case of cabin depressurization. Sudden cabin pressure loss activates chemical oxygen generators above each seat, causing oxygen masks to drop and forcing iron filings into the sodium chlorate inside the canister.
Oxygen, as a supposed mild euphoric, has a history of recreational use in oxygen bars and in sports. Oxygen bars are establishments, found in Japan, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada since the late 1990s that offer higher than normal exposure for a fee. Professional athletes, especially in American football, also sometimes go off field between plays to wear oxygen masks in order to get a supposed "boost" in performance. However, the reality of a pharmacological effect is doubtful; a placebo or psychological boost being the most plausible explanation. Other recreational uses include pyrotechnic applications, such as George Goble's five-second ignition of barbecue grills.


Smelting of iron ore into steel consumes 55% of commercially-produced oxygen. Rocket propulsion requires a fuel and an oxidizer. Larger rockets use liquid oxygen as their oxidizer, which is mixed and ignited with the fuel for propulsion.


Paleoclimatologists measure the ratio of oxygen-18 and oxygen-16 in the shells and skeletons of marine organisms to determine what the climate was like millions of years ago (see oxygen isotope ratio cycle). Seawater molecules that contain the lighter isotope, oxygen-16, evaporate at a slightly faster rate than water molecules containing the 12% heavier oxygen-18; this disparity increases at lower temperatures. During periods of lower global temperatures, snow and rain from that evaporated water tends to be higher in oxygen-16, and the seawater left behind tends to be higher in oxygen-18. Marine organisms then incorporate more oxygen-18 into their skeletons and shells than they would in a warmer climate.
Oxygen presents two spectrophotometric absorption bands peaking at the wavelengths 687 and 760 nm. Some remote sensing scientists have proposed using the measurement of the radiance coming from vegetation canopies in those bands to characterize plant health status from a satellite platform. This approach exploits the fact that in those bands it is possible to discriminate the vegetation's reflectance from its fluorescence, which is much weaker. The measurement is technically difficult owing to the low signal-to-noise ratio and the physical structure of vegetation; but it has been proposed as a possible method of monitoring the carbon cycle from satellites on a global scale.


The oxidation state of oxygen is −2 in almost all known compounds of oxygen. The oxidation state −1 is found in a few compounds such as peroxides. Compounds containing oxygen in other oxidation states are very uncommon: −1/2 (superoxides), −1/3 (ozonides), 0 (elemental, hypofluorous acid), +1/2 (dioxygenyl), +1 (dioxygen difluoride), and +2 (oxygen difluoride).

Oxides and other inorganic compounds

Water (H2O) is the oxide of hydrogen and the most familiar oxygen compound. Hydrogen atoms are covalently bonded to oxygen in a water molecule but also have an additional attraction (about 23.3 kJ·mol−1 per hydrogen atom) to an adjacent oxygen atom in a separate molecule. These hydrogen bonds between water molecules hold them approximately 15% closer than what would be expected in a simple liquid with just Van der Waals forces.
Due to its electronegativity, oxygen forms chemical bonds with almost all other elements at elevated temperatures to give corresponding oxides. However, some elements readily form oxides at standard conditions for temperature and pressure; the rusting of iron is an example. The surface of metals like aluminium and titanium are oxidized in the presence of air and become coated with a thin film of oxide that passivates the metal and slows further corrosion. Some of the transition metal oxides are found in nature as non-stoichiometric compounds, with a slightly less metal than the chemical formula would show. For example, the natural occurring FeO (wüstite) is actually written as , where x is usually around 0.05.
Oxygen as a compound is present in the atmosphere in trace quantities in the form of carbon dioxide (). The earth's crustal rock is composed in large part of oxides of silicon (silica , found in granite and sand), aluminium (aluminium oxide , in bauxite and corundum), iron (iron(III) oxide , in hematite and rust) and other metals.
The rest of the Earth's crust is also made of oxygen compounds, in particular calcium carbonate (in limestone) and silicates (in feldspars). Water-soluble silicates in the form of , , and are used as detergents and adhesives.
Oxygen also acts as a ligand for transition metals, forming metal–O2 bonds with the iridium atom in Vaska's complex, with the platinum in , and with the iron center of the heme group of hemoglobin.

Organic compounds and biomolecules

Concentrated will allow combustion to proceed rapidly and energetically.
Liquid oxygen spills, if allowed to soak into organic matter, such as wood, petrochemicals, and asphalt can cause these materials to detonate unpredictably on subsequent mechanical impact. On contact with the human body, it can also cause cryogenic burns to the skin and the eyes.

See also

Notes and citations


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oxygen in Afrikaans: Suurstof
oxygen in Tosk Albanian: Sauerstoff
oxygen in Arabic: أكسجين
oxygen in Asturian: Oxíxenu
oxygen in Azerbaijani: Oksigen
oxygen in Bengali: অক্সিজেন
oxygen in Min Nan: O (goân-sò͘)
oxygen in Belarusian: Кісларод
oxygen in Bavarian: Sauastoff
oxygen in Bosnian: Kiseonik
oxygen in Breton: Oksigen
oxygen in Bulgarian: Кислород
oxygen in Catalan: Oxigen
oxygen in Chuvash: Йӳçлĕк
oxygen in Czech: Kyslík
oxygen in Corsican: Ossigenu
oxygen in Welsh: Ocsigen
oxygen in Danish: Ilt
oxygen in German: Sauerstoff
oxygen in Estonian: Hapnik
oxygen in Modern Greek (1453-): Οξυγόνο
oxygen in Spanish: Oxígeno
oxygen in Esperanto: Oksigeno
oxygen in Basque: Oxigeno
oxygen in Persian: اکسیژن
oxygen in French: Oxygène
oxygen in Western Frisian: Soerstof
oxygen in Friulian: Ossigjen
oxygen in Irish: Ocsaigin
oxygen in Manx: Ocsygien
oxygen in Scottish Gaelic: Àile-beatha
oxygen in Galician: Osíxeno (elemento)
oxygen in Gujarati: ઑક્સીજન
oxygen in Korean: 산소
oxygen in Armenian: Թթվածին
oxygen in Hindi: आक्सीजन
oxygen in Upper Sorbian: Kislik
oxygen in Croatian: Kisik
oxygen in Ido: Oxo
oxygen in Indonesian: Oksigen
oxygen in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Oxygeno
oxygen in Icelandic: Súrefni
oxygen in Italian: Ossigeno
oxygen in Hebrew: חמצן
oxygen in Javanese: Oksigen
oxygen in Pampanga: Oxygen
oxygen in Kannada: ಆಮ್ಲಜನಕ
oxygen in Georgian: ჟანგბადი
oxygen in Swahili (macrolanguage): Oksijeni
oxygen in Haitian: Oksijèn
oxygen in Kurdish: Oksîjen
oxygen in Latin: Oxygenium
oxygen in Latvian: Skābeklis
oxygen in Luxembourgish: Sauerstoff
oxygen in Lithuanian: Deguonis
oxygen in Limburgan: Zuurstof
oxygen in Lingala: Oksijɛ́ní
oxygen in Lojban: kijno
oxygen in Hungarian: Oxigén
oxygen in Macedonian: Кислород
oxygen in Malayalam: ഓക്സിജന്‍
oxygen in Maori: Hāora
oxygen in Marathi: ऑक्सिजन
oxygen in Malay (macrolanguage): Oksigen
oxygen in Mongolian: Хүчилтөрөгч
oxygen in Dutch: Zuurstof
oxygen in Newari: अक्सिजन
oxygen in Japanese: 酸素
oxygen in Norwegian: Oksygen
oxygen in Norwegian Nynorsk: Oksygen
oxygen in Occitan (post 1500): Oxigèn
oxygen in Oromo: Oxygen
oxygen in Uzbek: Kislorod
oxygen in Low German: Suerstoff
oxygen in Polish: Tlen
oxygen in Portuguese: Oxigénio
oxygen in Kölsch: Sauerstoff
oxygen in Romanian: Oxigen
oxygen in Quechua: Muksichaq
oxygen in Russian: Кислород
oxygen in Albanian: Oksigjeni
oxygen in Sicilian: Ossìgginu
oxygen in Sinhala: ඔක්සිජන්
oxygen in Simple English: Oxygen
oxygen in Slovak: Kyslík
oxygen in Slovenian: Kisik
oxygen in Serbian: Кисеоник
oxygen in Serbo-Croatian: Kiseonik
oxygen in Sundanese: Oksigén
oxygen in Finnish: Happi
oxygen in Swedish: Syre
oxygen in Tagalog: Oksiheno
oxygen in Tamil: ஆக்ஸிஜன்
oxygen in Telugu: ఆక్సిజన్
oxygen in Thai: ออกซิเจน
oxygen in Vietnamese: Ôxy
oxygen in Tajik: Оксиген
oxygen in Turkish: Oksijen
oxygen in Ukrainian: Кисень
oxygen in Yiddish: זויערשטאף
oxygen in Contenese: 氧
oxygen in Samogitian: Degounis
oxygen in Chinese: 氧

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

acetylene, ammonia, argon, asphyxiating gas, butane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, chlorine, coal gas, ethane, ether, ethylene, fluorine, formaldehyde, helium, hydrogen, illuminating gas, krypton, lewisite, marsh gas, methane, mustard gas, natural gas, neon, nitrogen, ozone, poison gas, propane, radon, sewer gas, xenon
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