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Sodium is everywhere. It’s in your sweat, it’s in your food, and it’s even in the ocean. But, don’t be afraid of this common and useful element.

In this lesson, learn about the definition of sodium, its properties and uses and even some cool facts.

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Definition of Sodium

Not to alarm you, but sodium really is everywhere, and we hear about it frequently in our daily lives. It is a nutrient we need to properly function. It is also a preservative, a flavor enhancer, and even part of many cleaning solutions. Sodium is found in rocks and in the ocean, and it’s what gives many old street lamps their yellow-orange glow.

Believe it or not, sodium is a metal. To be more specific it is an alkali earth metal. It is shown in column 1 (1A) of the periodic table with atomic number 11. The symbol for sodium is Na, which comes from the Latin name for sodium, natrium.

Properties

If you ever get a chance to see pure sodium metal, you’ll notice that it is silvery and lustrous. Pure sodium metal is very soft and can be cut with a dull knife. It can conduct heat and electricity; however it is rarely used for this purpose.

The melting point of sodium metal is 208.0 degrees Fahrenheit, and it boils at 1621.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is not a dense metal and will float on water. The most common form of sodium has an atomic weight of 23 amu (atomic mass units). However, the average atomic weight of sodium is 22.99 amu.Like all of the alkali earth metals, sodium in its pure, metallic form, has one electron in its outermost shell that is very easily removed.

Because of this, pure sodium is incredibly reactive. It will readily react with water and even oxygen in the air, producing heat and flammable hydrogen gas. In fact, simply putting a chunk of sodium metal in water makes fire! Pure sodium is often kept in mineral oil to keep it from reacting with its surroundings.Because pure sodium is so reactive, it’s seldom found in its pure form. Sodium occurs most frequently as a cation, which is a positively charged particle. Sodium loses its one outermost electron to become a +1 cation. The sodium cation is represented as Na+.

History

In 1807, Humphrey Davy discovered sodium after he passed an electric current through the compound sodium hydroxide, separating sodium from hydroxide. A similar process is still used today to make pure sodium metal. Sodium metal doesn’t have as many commercial uses as sodium in its cation form.

Every year, tons of sodium cation containing compounds are produced.Though pure sodium metal was only officially discovered in the early 1800s, the sodium cation has long played an important role on Earth. For starters, it is the sixth most abundant element in Earth’s crust, making it a common constituent of rocks like feldspar. Table salt, also known as halite or sodium chloride, is 50% sodium cations. Unsurprisingly, salty bodies of water like the ocean, the Dead Sea, and the Great Salt Lake, are loaded with sodium.

Uses

The sodium-containing compound sodium carbonate was used by ancient Egyptians and Romans to alleviate headaches, and another sodium-containing compound, sodium hydroxide (lye), has been used for hundreds of years to make soap. Table salt mined from salty lakes or the ocean has long been a crucial ingredient in the preservation of perishable foods, like meats.Our bodies depend on sodium cations for the proper functioning of our nervous system. When we sweat or cry, sodium from our cells is released onto our skin.

Largely because of this, we also need sodium cations to help stay hydrated. Long-distance athletes must make sure to ingest sodium during a long workout or race to help them retain water.The most common of these compounds are sodium chloride (table salt), sodium carbonate (washing soda), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), and sodium hydroxide (lye). Washing soda and lye are used mainly for cleaning purposes, while baking soda has a variety of uses.

Baking soda is used for cooking, cleaning and even cleaning up acidic messes.

Lesson Summary

The element sodium is an alkali metal. It is has atomic number 11 and resides in column 1A of the periodic table.

The symbol for sodium is Na. Pure sodium metal is incredibly reactive, and sodium usually exists in its cation form, Na+. As a metal, sodium is silvery and soft and reacts vigorously with water and oxygen.Sodium is the sixth most abundant element in the earth’s crust and can be found everywhere. It is common in rocks and salty bodies of water, and humans need it for proper body function.

Sodium has uses in food preservation, soap making, and cleaning substances.

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