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It's Elemental

The Element Oxygen

[Click for Isotope Data]


8 O Oxygen 15.9994

Atomic Number: 8

Atomic Weight: 15.9994

Melting Point: 54.36 K (-218.79°C or -361.82°F)

Boiling Point: 90.20 K (-182.95°C or -297.31°F)

Density: 0.001429 grams per cubic centimeter

Phase at Room Temperature: Gas

Element Classification: Non-metal

Period Number: 2

Group Number: 16

Group Name: Chalcogen

What's in a name? From the greek words oxys and genes, which together mean "acid forming."

Say what? Oxygen is pronounced as OK-si-jen.

History and Uses:

Oxygen had been produced by several chemists prior to its discovery in 1774, but they failed to recognize it as a distinct element. Joseph Priestley and Carl Wilhelm Scheele both independently discovered oxygen, but Priestly is usually given credit for the discovery. They were both able to produce oxygen by heating mercuric oxide (HgO). Priestley called the gas produced in his experiments 'dephlogisticated air' and Scheele called his 'fire air'. The name oxygen was created by Antoine Lavoisier who incorrectly believed that oxygen was necessary to form all acids.

Oxygen is the third most abundant element in the universe and makes up nearly 21% of the earth's atmosphere. Oxygen accounts for nearly half of the mass of the earth's crust, two thirds of the mass of the human body and nine tenths of the mass of water. Large amounts of oxygen can be extracted from liquefied air through a process known as fractional distillation. Oxygen can also be produced through the electrolysis of water or by heating potassium chlorate (KClO3).

Oxygen is a highly reactive element and is capable of combining with most other elements. It is required by most living organisms and for most forms of combustion. Impurities in molten pig iron are burned away with streams of high pressure oxygen to produce steel. Oxygen can also be combined with acetylene (C2H2) to produce an extremely hot flame used for welding. Liquid oxygen, when combined with liquid hydrogen, makes an excellent rocket fuel. Ozone (O3) forms a thin, protective layer around the earth that shields the surface from the sun's ultraviolet radiation. Oxygen is also a component of hundreds of thousands of organic compounds.

Estimated Crustal Abundance: 4.61×105 milligrams per kilogram

Estimated Oceanic Abundance: 8.57×105 milligrams per liter

Number of Stable Isotopes: 3 (View all isotope data)

Ionization Energy: 13.618 eV

Oxidation States: -2

Electron Shell Configuration:


2s2   2p4

Citation and linking information

For questions about this page, please contact Steve Gagnon.