Oxygen is a common gas available in the air.
It accounts to 20.8% of all gases in the air.
It is chemically represented as “O” and element oxygen is represented as O2.
It is one of the widely distributed gases in the atmosphere after Nitrogen.
It is a diatomic molecule with an atomic number of 8 and the molecular weight of 16.
As a plain molecule oxygen is stable but has tendency to react. But in its atomic form, it is highly reactive.
It is a life sustaining element for all the living beings. On the contrary, it can destroy many substances when exposed to it.
Uses of oxygen are as follows:
- For breathing.
- In toxicity treatment.
- In health care
- For combustion of fuels in automobiles.
- For analysis of substances.
- For sterilization.
- For chemical reactions.
- For sanitation.
For breathing: We all live in an oxygen atmosphere.It is a life generating gas. All living animals and also plants take up oxygen for production of energy. But the only change is that plant can also release oxygen into the air due to photosynthesis.
Oxygen in humans and animals is taken by blood hemoglobin. It is then carried to deeper most parts of the body tissues and distributed. This oxygen at cellular level is taken up by mitochondria where it is used to break down the glucose molecule into energy (ATP; adenosine tri-phosphate) and water molecule and carbon-dioxide. This carbon-dioxide is released out of the body again by expiration through lungs.
Animals living in water also take up oxygen. Hence, the air water combination is critical even in aquariums as the fishes need to take oxygen from water through gills.
Thus oxygen supports the generation of energy required for sustainment of life on earth.
In toxicity and poisoning: In case of poisoning by cyanide, oxygen can help buy time to detoxify the cyanide from the system. Cyanide binds to mitochondrial complexes and arrests energy generation leading to immediate death. Oxygen when given in high doses can minimize this cyanide induced arrest of energy generation. Thus it can save life and pave way for further detoxification of cyanide by sodium thio sulphate.
In health care: When there is respiratory insufficiency in diseases like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, pneumonia, heart failure then oxygen therapy is used to aid breathing.
Even in case of poisoning, oxygen therapy may be given to stabilize the patient. . Thus medical oxygen is an important aid in critical condition to save life and buy time for further procedures.
For combustion of fuels in automobiles: We all have studied the requirement of air or oxygen to support fire. Oxygen is necessary to burn the fuels in the automobiles. So there are separate air filters which take air into the combustion chamber of automobiles. Here oxygen reacts with fuels to generate energy required to run the automobiles. Without oxygen it would be difficult to burn the fuels. Hence we use carbon-dioxide to put of flames in times of fire at home offices or in buildings.
For analysis of substances: Sample analysis is a key aspect of quality control in industry. It is also used in research. Of the available analytical methods in chemistry, flame photometry and atomic absorption spectrometry use flame to determine the elements in the sample. For this oxygen is needed to generate flame of high temperature so as to convert excite electrons in the atoms. So, oxygen is used as one of the combination gases in the above methods of analysis.
For sterilization: Oxygen being an electro negative element is a strong sterilizing agent. It can destroy microbes in a given environment be it water or land. It is used in the form of hydrogen peroxide H2O2 as a disinfectant to kill microbes on surgical equipment.
Also there is a method called oxygen plasma treatment where by oxygen molecule is broken down to release single oxygen atom or its ions which are deadly toxic. They are used for sterilization of substances at room temperatures.
For chemical reactions: Oxygen is a part of many chemical reactions. An important chemical reaction is oxidation-reduction reaction. This reaction is one where there is addition or removal of oxygen. Addition is termed as oxidation while removal of oxygen is termed as reduction. Besides oxygen, hydrogen and electrons are also involved in the process. These chemical reactions are used for synthesis, analysis, titration and also for degradation purposes.
For sanitation: Oxygen is also used for sanitation. The sanitation is measured in terms of BOD and COD. BOD means biological oxygen demand and COD means chemical oxygen demand. When we take them in detail, BOD is the amount of dissolved oxygen required by bacteria or other microbes to destroy the waste. COD means the amount of chemical needed to destroy certain amount of waste. In both the process oxygen is involved in destroying the waste. Read more details on biological oxygen demand.
Even we can notice metals like iron destroyed by oxidation when exposed to air for long time. This is called rust but actually it is oxidation of the metal due to oxygen in the air. Hence oxygen is a powerful agent which can destroy substances. Though in our terms this destruction by rust formation is disadvantageous, it is the law of nature to derange substances. So oxygen supports this nature law by destroying them.
So oxygen is not only useful as a breathing gas but also as an important chemical tool.