History of the Hydrogen Atom H | Chemistry Net

History of the Hydrogen Atom H

History of the Hydrogen Atom H

What is the History of the Hydrogen Atom?

Atomic Number: 1 Category: Non - Metals
Atomic Weight : 1.00794 Melting Point: -259 °C
Phase: Gas Boiling Point: - 253 °C
Color: Colorless Isolated: Henry Cavendish (1766)


The English chemist Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) first isolated pure hydrogen. He observed bubbles of gas rising from a reaction of iron filings in dilute sulfuric acid. He collected the gas and found it to be highly flammable and very light: qualities that made the gas seem unusual. He was also the first person to prove that when hydrogen burned it formed water. Because the element produces water when burned in air, the French chemist Lavoisier gave it the name hydrogen, which means "water producer" (from the Greek: hydro (water υδρο) and gennao (to produce γενναω).

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe (88% of all atoms). It is the lightest of all the elements with 1 proton and 1 electron. It is the nuclear fuel consumed by our Sun and other stars to produce energy. At the Sun’s center, the temperature is around 15 million °C and the density is 200 kilograms per liter. In such conditions, hydrogen participates in a nuclear process and form helium nuclei, emitting huge amounts of energy.

At standard temperature and pressure (STP), hydrogen is a colorless and odorless gas that exists in the diatomic form H2 (“diatomic” meaning that it consists of two atoms). In this form, hydrogen easily combines with oxygen, to forms water that fills the seas, rivers, lakes and clouds. Combined with carbon, it helps to bond the cells of living beings. Hydrogen is also an important part of petroleum, startch, fats, cellulose, alcohols, acids. In Figure I.1 below hydrogen is evolved (bubbles) when Zn metal reacts with hydrochloric acid.

Hydrogen is a commercially important substance. Today, around 70 million tons of hydrogen are produced yearly and large quantities go into fertilizer production. Nitrogen and hydrogen are used as part of the Haber–Bosch process, which uses natural gas and air to create ammonia—an important raw material in fertilizer production.

Hydrogen is also used to manufacture methanol, CH3OH, via the catalytic reaction of CO and H2 at high pressure and temperature.


Figure I.1: Zn metal reacting with HCl acid. The bubbles formed is hydrogen gas

Hydrogen is also used as a rocket fuel. Combustion of hydrogen - oxygen mixtures is commonly used in liquid-fuel rocket engines such as those of the space shuttles.



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  1. P. Parsons & G. Dixon "The Periodic Table”, Quercus, 2014
  2. David W. Oxtoby, H.P. Gillis, Alan Campion, “Principles of Modern Chemistry”, Sixth Edition, Thomson Brooks/Cole, 2008
  3. Steven S. Zumdahl, “Chemical Principles”  6th Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2009


Key Terms

hydrogen, element, proton, history of hydrogen, Henry Cavendish, diatomic form of H, Haber-Bosch process, fertilizers, molecular orbital theory,

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