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steel manufacture, synthesis gas, propellant, guided missiles, ammonia

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>  Properties and Occurence

Oxygen, symbol O, colorless, odorless, tasteless, slightly magnetic gaseous element. In Earth’s crust, oxygen is more abundant than any other element. Oxygen was discovered in 1774 by the British chemist Joseph Priestley and, independently, by the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele; it was shown to be an elemental gas by the French chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier in his classic experiments on combustion. The element’s name was created by combining the Greek words oxys “acid” and genes ”forming,” because oxygen is a common component of acids.


Large amounts of oxygen are used in high-temperature welding torches, in which a mixture of oxygen and another gas produces a flame of much higher temperature than is obtained by burning gases in air. Oxygen is administered to patients whose breathing is impaired and also to people in aircraft flying at high altitudes, where the poor oxygen concentration cannot support normal respiration. Oxygen-enriched air is used in open-hearth furnaces for steel manufacture.

Most of the oxygen produced in the United States is used to make a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen called synthesis gas, used for the synthesis of methanol and ammonia. High-purity oxygen is used also in the metal-fabrication industries; in liquid form it is of great importance as a propellant for guided missiles and rockets.


Lewin, Seymour Z., M.S., Ph.D.

Professor of Chemistry, New York University.

Article key phrases:

steel manufacture, synthesis gas, propellant, guided missiles, ammonia, high altitudes, hydrogen, genes, combustion, crust, rockets, Oxygen, flame, breathing, Earth, aircraft, patients, United States, Uses

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