Phosphorus in one form or another is found present in different aspects of our life, yet we don’t seem to realize it. From watching horror movies or stories, seeing luminescent reflections and glows in the graveyards, to spending time at a friend’s birthday party, where we have observed matches being used most commonly to light the candles, we are observing different aspects of phosphorus without even knowing it.
This brings me to question how and why fire can easily be generated by just scratch on a sandy surface. Every single day, people live their busy lives without questioning how and why. Very few people will actually stop to think about chemistry in our daily lives and how much chemistry truly affects our world today, more specifically phosphorus.Phosphorus means “morning star” in Greek, which indicates its emission of bright light. Throughout the book The 13th Element, John Emsley had emphasized how phosphorus related products were made as well as how they have impact our world. Even though phosphorus could be seen as miracle as it is a part of many daily foods and medicines that helps treat people’s diseases, there are also drawbacks, which could lead to catastrophe if not handled well. For example, phosphorus is used to make modern weapons for war, which proves how dangerous it could be.
John Emsley clearly shows the benefits as well as the dangers of phosphorus.In John Emsley’s book, he first introduced the history of phosphorus and the process of how phosphorus was discovered and created. Phosphorus was first discovered in the mid-1600’s by Hennig Brandt, who was a German alchemist. Short on money, he desperately tried to create gold from urine at the time.
Instead, he found phosphorus, which he called “cold fire”, because what he observed was luminous and glowed in the dark. As scientists know now and as Emsley states, “phosphate is one of the most abundant components of urine because human beings take in much more phosphate from their diet than they actually need. Most of the excess is passed in the urine as phosphate” (17).
He simply heated the urine and extracted the remains. However, in order to make money, Brandt sold his phosphorus to others who found out his methods and took credit for its creation themselves. Brandt’s name would have totally been forgotten if it was not for Wilhelm Leibnitz, who wrote about the true story of the creation of phosphorus. Although many people at that time did not credit Brandt for its creation, his work has garnered more recognition over the years.
His production of phosphorus from something as simple as urine has truly changed the world and has given people closer insight into not only themselves, but also to the objects they use daily.The presence of phosphorus explains why there might be ghostly glows and luminous reflections in the waterlogged graveyard. In the human body, because of the abundance phosphorus, after death, the microorganisms will help to make gases phosphane (PH3) and diphosphane (P2H4), which are easily ignited at regular temperature.
These two compounds containing phosphorus can then make spontaneous glows and luminescence in the air of graveyards. It is fascinating to imagine how much goes into the making of a simple daily product. we all strike matches to light the candles, yet we never stop to think about what these matches are really made of. Without phosphorus, we would not even be able to successfully complete the simplest task of lighting a match. Red phosphorus along with potassium chlorate comprise the side of matchboxes. As the match is struck, the resultant friction and heat rapidly ignite the tip of the match, which contains enough phosphorus to break down the potassium chlorate.
As phosphorus mixes with potassium chlorate, the match ignites. Even though we know that phosphorus makes up the side of matchboxes, only red phosphorus can be used, because white or black forms can are ignited naturally and as hard as granite. Red phosphorus and matchboxes are used all over the world on all types of occasions. For example, phosphorus plays an important part in celebrations are the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve because phosphate is also used to create fireworks. However, the easy ignitable matchstick could be a danger.
First, it can help to quickly spread ignitions to flames that might destroy things by burning them down, so people must be extremely careful with objects containing phosphorus, such as fireworks. The phosphorus mentioned before was the red phosphorus. However, white phosphorus might also be used as an ingredient or component in creating dangerous combustibles.
Considered poisonous when used in such a manner, it has created problems when contained in modern weapons. Phosphorus was used in the making of bombs during wars between the Japanese and the United States of America. As stated in the book, “The US armed forces use phosphorus-filled smoke cartridges as spotting and marking rounds …thereby enabling a better aim for mortar shells” (157).
Phosphorus plays a huge role in creating weapons. However, using phosphorus in bombs, weapons, and smoke cartridges are extremely dangerous.In a much less harmful way, phosphorus also has many other practical uses.
Phosphorus is even found in foods that we eat daily. In the modern food industry, the usage of phosphorus had become one of its big categories. Phosphorus is a “mineral that’s naturally found in milk products, nuts, eggs and poultry”. We need phosphorus in our diets for bone health and other key functions, such as making protein and helping our body store energy.
In modern life, phosphorus-based food additives are among the most commonly consumed nutrients in the world, such as in the form of phosphate compounds. Phosphorus can also be added to food and beverage to make them tasty and can prevent bacteria growth. These additives can also help baked goods rise, because they act as emulsifiers in processed cheese and canned soup. They add flavor to coke as well as color to frozen french fries, and can be added to meat making it juicier and tasty after freezing and reheating. The invention of these phosphorus additives have had a great impact on the food industry. It has made cola the best beverage, and phosphorus marinated meat became more tender and tasty. However, as Emsley emphasized, an excess usage of phosphorus could lead to disaster. Scientists have recently found that the tasty additives such as phosphorus and sodium, have posed a major health danger to people especially to the patients with chronic kidney disease.
Now, ways in which to reduce phosphorus intake has become another major task for the food industry in order to improve public health. However, we still use a form of phosphorus daily. Phosphorus is still one of the most common substances in the environment, as well as its different forms such as phosphate. In the natural world, phosphorus atoms bonded to oxygen atoms forms the phosphate compound. Among the phosphate compound, one category we almost use everyday is dishwashing detergent. With regard to cleaning uses, phosphates are used in automatic dish detergents and laundry detergents to help “soften hard water and remove soil, oil, and grease.
” As mentioned earlier, phosphates can be dangerous when too much has been used so starting from 1990, more and more states and countries have started to ban phosphates in laundry and dishwashing areas. However, currently they are still the most effective oil and grease removal detergent. It is allowed in institutional cleaning products, which we use every single day to wash the dishes or to wash our clothes.
We would not even have these products that make our life a whole lot easier, without the formation of phosphorus. Additionally, one of most abundant minerals in the human body. It plays an important role in the health and function of our bones, muscles, and blood vessels, also playing a key role in cellular functions in the body. About 85% of the body’s phosphorus is contained in bones and teeth. In fact, phosphorus is also one of the best cures for toothache and neuralgia, which is pain due to damaged nerves. In addition, without enough phosphate, a compound of phosphorus and oxygen, present in one’s blood, people will develop a disease called Hypophosphatemia, which may cause seizures, muscle weakness, comas, anorexia, and life-threatening diseases.In conclusion, each and every single element is extremely important and has its impact in our society in one way, shape, or form.
Phosphorus brought fortunes to many in the eighteenth century and as John Emsley remarks, “The former were fascinated because it proved that beneath the surface of things there was another world; the latter assumed that this material held the key to the philosopher’s stone”(208). In one way or another, chemists, alchemists, and people in general all believe that phosphorus was truly a remarkable element. Without it, so many systems would not be able to work or function the way they do. Overall, Chemistry makes up our world. As we learn more about the chemical makeup of our world, we learn more about our world in general. Without chemistry, nothing would exist.
Chemistry is part of our life because it creates the foundations of our bodies and our world.