What is Phosphorus

Phosphorus is an element in the periodic table with atomic number 15 and it is generally found in the form of oxides in nature. The symbol, used for phosphorus is P. It is a highly reactive element and this can be said to be the reason as to why it is not found freely in the nature. There are two allotropes of phosphorus, namely, white phosphorous and red phosphorus. The name, phosphorus is derived from the combination of the terms, ‘Phos’ meaning light and ‘phoros’ meaning bearer. The reason for such a name can be explained to be owing to the property of white phosphorous, wherein, it illuminates on exposure to oxygen. This property of phosphorous is termed phosphorescence.

Phosphorus was first discovered by Henning Brand in the year 1669. In the nature, phosphorus is found in the form of its compounds and the abundant source of phosphorus is the phosphate rock. The role of phosphorus in the human body is of utmost importance and the deficiency of phosphorus can lead to various diseases. The main application of phosphorus in the industry is in the production of fertilizers and pesticides of various kinds.

Of the two forms of phosphorus, white phosphorus is most unstable and ignites at a temperature of 30 degree Celsius, whereas red phosphorus is more stable. It catches fire only when heated to temperatures of 300 degree Celsius. The other two forms of phosphorus that are found in small amounts are scarlet phosphorus and violet phosphorus. The melting point of white phosphorus is 44.1 degree Celsius and it boils at a temperature of 280.5 degree Celsius. However, it is to be noted that red phosphorus directly undergoes sublimation at temperatures between 450 and 600 degree Celsius.

Within the body, phosphorus is produced during the process of release of energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine Tri Phosphate). The food items rich in phosphorus are meat and milk. The deficiency of phosphorus can lead to pain in joints and in bones. Pregnant women and growing kids need more amounts of phosphorus as compared to a normal adult. In the case of plants, phosphorous is an essential macro mineral. Many detergents make use of phosphorus to enhance their performance by softening the hard water. However, in some countries, the use of phosphorus in detergents is banned owing to the production of non bio degradable waste during the production of these detergents.

In the production of matches, the use of white phosphorus has been done since the early 19th century. In the aquatic world, a low level of phosphorus is essential to ensure that the balance is maintained and life is made possible underwater.

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