Nitrogen is a simple substance (CAS-number: 7727-37-9). Under normal conditions, it is rather an inert diatomic gas without color, taste, and smell (formula N2), which make up three-quarters of the earth’s atmosphere.
In 1772, Henry Cavendish carried out the following experiment: several times, he pushed the air over hot charcoal, and then processed it with alkali. As a result, he received a residue, which Cavendish named phlogisticated air. From the standpoint of modern chemistry, it is clear that in the reaction oxygen is combined with carbon dioxide, which is then absorbed by alkali. This residue gas is represented mostly by nitrogen. Thus, Cavendish identified nitrogen, but failed to understand that this was a new simple substance (chemical element). In the same year, Cavendish said of this experience to Joseph Priestley.
At that time, Priestley conducted a series of experiments, which were also intended to combine the oxygen in the air and discard the carbon dioxide, also receiving nitrogen. However, being a supporter of the ruling at the time the phlogiston theory, he completely misinterpreted the results (in his opinion, the process was the opposite – no oxygen was removed from the gas mixture, and vice versa, by burning, the air was saturated with phlogiston. He called the remaining air (nitrogen) phlogiston saturated, that is phlogisticated. It is obvious that Priestley, though able to isolate nitrogen, failed to understand the essence of his discovery, and therefore is not considered a pioneer of nitrogen.
Simultaneously, Carl Scheele conducted similar experiments with the same result.
In 1772, nitrogen as a simple substance was described by Daniel Rutherford, he published a master’s thesis, which described basic properties of nitrogen: does not react with alkalis, does not support combustion, is unbreathable. Therefore, it is then Daniel Rutherford, who is considered a pioneer of nitrogen. However, Rutherford was a supporter of the phlogiston theory too, and therefore also could not understand what he had isolated. Thus, it is impossible to define clearly the nitrogen discoverer.
Subsequently, nitrogen was studied by Henry Cavendish (interesting is a fact that he was able to combine nitrogen with oxygen using electric current, and after the absorption of nitrogen oxides in the residue he received a small amount of a very inert gas. However, as in the case of nitrogen, he could not understand that he had isolated a new chemical element – the inert gas argon).
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