The elements of group 16 in the periodic table – oxygen, sulfur, selenium, tellurium and polonium – are collectively known as chalcogens. Each of them influences our lives on a daily basis and is useful in many ways. Here, we will see the uses of each of these chalcogens more closely.
Calcogens, also known as the oxygen family, are considered to be some of the main group elements in the periodic table. These elements can be found naturally both in free states and in combined states. Oxygen, sulfur and selenium were recognized as a group in 1829. Subsequently, tellurium and polonium were added to this group in 1865 and 1898, respectively.
The metallic character, the melting point, the boiling point, the density, the ionic radius and the atomic radius increase as it descends from the oxygen group to polonium. On the other hand, the ionization energy is reduced as we move forward in the table. These elements are required by plants and animals to perform a series of vital functions, and apart from their biological uses, the chalcogens are important to us because of their numerous industrial uses as well.
Uses of the chalcogens
Everyone knows that oxygen is essential for the survival of life in Warth. Plants and animals need it to create adenosine triphosphate and to process DNA, water and amino acids into the body. In fact, more than half of an average human body is composed of oxygen compounds.
It is also important to keep in mind that ozone, an allotrope of oxygen, is essential to protect us from the harmful UV rays of the sun.
More than half of all the oxygen produced in the world is used for the manufacture of steel.
A large amount of pure oxygen is used by the manufacturing chemical industries.
Oxygen is also used to create rocket fuel and in the process of cutting metals.
Pure oxygen is used to purify and treat hard or contaminated water.
It is also used in the medical field as part of the treatment against serious diseases.
Both plants and animals require sulfur to process the nutrients. Although humans only need a little sulfur, it is a very important part of our diet. On average, a person consumes around 900 mg per day. This element also helps to purify the liver of harmful metals.
Skunks use sulfur in their spray, which is what gives a strong smell.
Sulfur is used in large quantities in the chemical industries to produce sulfuric acid.
It has also been used since ancient times as gunpowder and other weapons such as Greek fire.
Sulfur is used to vulcanize rubber, which gives it resistance and wear resistance.
Sulfur is also used in the manufacture of phosphoric acid, fireworks, pesticides, fertilizers and concrete.
The majority of all the selenium produced is used in the production of glass.
Selenium is used in the manufacture of color pigments for printers.
This element is used in equipment that depends on light to obtain electrical readings.
A large amount of selenium is used by the metallurgical industry, especially in the production of manganese.
Selenium is sometimes used in anti-dandruff shampoos.
Although it is harmful to the human body, selenium is used in small amounts to activate certain enzymes in the body. It is also known to protect the body from being poisoned by heavy metal compounds.
Tellurium is not useful for animal life and most plants. Only microscopic organisms such as fungi absorb this element as a nutrient.
Tellurium is used in the manufacture of computer disks and other types of sensitive electronic devices, such as light sensors.
It is also used as part of solar energy panels.
Tellurium can be used as a substitute when sulfur is not available during rubber vulcanization.
It is also used to manufacture lubricants and process petroleum products.
Most uses of polonium have to do with its radioactivity. It is used in many types of research on alpha particles and neutrons.
This element is sometimes used to power nuclear batteries.
A large portion of polonium is used to make antistatic devices.
Other uses of the chalcogens:
The organic compounds of the chalcogens are often used as semiconductors.
These elements also form an important part in the study of chemical reactions of elements with non-covalent bonds.
They are also used in synthetic and biochemical experiments, and to study atomic particles such as protons, electrons and neutrons.
As you have seen, the chalcogens have many uses. As technological advances are made, research on these elements shows a lot of possibilities for biotechnology and medicine, and a number of industrial production methods as well.
Did you know
More than 100 million metric tons of oxygen are produced every year throughout the world through the process of fractional distillation of air, which is used for various industrial and medical purposes.