Nitrogen

Dr Daniel J Bell et al.

Nitrogen (chemical symbol N) is one of the basic organic elements, and is a key constituent of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, and of nucleic acids (i.e. DNA and RNA). On earth it is the most abundant element found in its pure form, and comprises 78% of all breathable air. 

Nitrogen (N2) is a colourless odorless diatomic gas with an atomic number 7 and atomic weight 14.007. It has a melting point of -210°C and a boiling point of -196°C 1. Nitrogen is characteristically inert, and its diatomic molecule has the strongest covalent bonds found in nature between two atoms of the same element.

The stable isotope nitrogen-14 accounts for more than 99.6% nitrogen found on earth. A tiny amount of nitrogen-15 makes up the remainder of the naturally-occurring nitrogen 2. Many other nitrogen isotopes (all mass numbers sequentially from N-10 to N-25) have been observed experimentally, all with half-lives less than one hour 2.

Nitrogen per se is not poisonous. However in an atmosphere of pure nitrogen, death will obviously rapidly ensue as no oxygen is available.

Although not due to an inherent toxicity of the element, nitrogen gas plays a key role in the pathogenesis of decompression illness.

Daniel Rutherford (1749-1819), a Scottish scientist published his discovery of nitrogen in his PhD thesis in 1772 1,5

Share article

Article information

rID: 70161
Section: Pathology
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Nitrogen (N2)
  • Dinitrogen
  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Nitrogen gas

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Updating… Please wait.

 Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

 Thank you for updating your details.