Facts and The History of Sulfur

Some interesting facts about sulfur as well as the history of this element.

Sulfur has been known about for thousands of years. In fact, it was even referred to in the Bible under the name of brimstone. It is a nonmetal and a chalcogen.  At 293 Kelvin, its density is 2.07 g/cm3. In the year of 1789, sulfur became recognized as a chemical element when Antoine Lavoisier included it in his famous list of elements.

The boiling points for sulfur is 717.9 K, with the melting point being 388.4 K. Its specific heat capacity is 0.71 K g-1 K-1. Sulfur is considered to be of low toxicity, although compounds such as carbon disulfide, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide are all considered to be extremely toxic. It is insoluble in water, but is soluble in carbon disulfide. When placed in a flame, it oxidizes to form sulfur dioxide. The most common form of sulfur is S8, but it does exist in several crystalline and anamorphic allotropes. It will bond with almost any other element, with the best known compound being hydrogen sulfide which smells like rotten eggs.

When sulfur is burned, it releases a gas known as sulfur dioxide. This gas kills bacteria and insects, which is why it was once used in New York to fumigate buildings. Also, as detailed in Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus says, “Bring sulfur, old nurse, that cleanses all pollution, and bring me fire, that I may purify the house with sulfur…” Chinese texts give us possibly the first recipe for gunpowder, which included sulfur, as well as saltpeter and carbon. Sulfur became a recognized chemical element in 1789, when Antoine Lavoisier included it in his famous list of the elements.

Sulfur’s main commercial use is to be made into sulfuric acid. That acid is currently the world’s number one bulk chemical and is required in large quantities to be put into lead-acid batteries. Sulfur is a vital element for all forms of life. It is a component of two amino acids, cysteine and methionine. To buy 100g of pure sulfur, the average price would be around $50, although the bulk price would be much cheaper.

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