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General Info
Atomic Symbol Atomic symbol::P
Atomic Number Atomic number::15
Atomic Weight Atomic weight::30.976732 g/mol
Chemical series Nonmetals
Appearance waxy white/ red/ black/ colorless
Group, Period, Block 15, 3, p
Electron configuration [Ne] 3s2, 3p3
Electrons per shell 2, 8, 5
Electron shell Phosphorus.png
CAS number CAS number::7723-14-0
Physical properties
Phase solid
Density [[Density::(white)1.823 g·cm−3
(red) 2.34 g·cm−3
(black) 2.69 g·cm−3 g/ml]]
Melting point Melting point::317.3 K
Boiling point Boiling point::550 K
Isotopes of Phosphorus
iso NA half-life DT DE (MeV) DP
31P 100% 31P is stable with 16 neutrons.
32P syn 14.28 d β- 1.709 32S
33P syn 25.3d β- 0.249 33S
All properties are for STP unless otherwise stated.

Phosphorus is a chemical element known by the chemical symbol "P". It was one of the first elements ever discovered using modern scientific methods, and is vitally important element in our society. Notwithstanding the necessity of phosphorus to maintain organic life, phosphorus has been found a use in almost every facet of modern life. From toothpaste to incendiaries, this element significantly affects the day to day existence of every human being on earth.


Phosphorus, number fifteen on the periodic table, is most commonly used to start a fire. However, the red phosphorus found on the side of a matchbox is only one form (allotrope) this element may take. The element phosphorus is also found in white, black, and violet allotropes, with white being the most common of the four. [1] It is found in great abundance throughout the earth, being he twelfth most abundant element in the lithosphere, and is almost always found with an oxidation state of +5. [2]

White Phosphorous

White phosphorus, the most common allotrope of this material, has a waxy feel and is transparent, however commercial varieties are usually yellow due to impurities. This material is also quite poisonous, and a dose of around 50 mg is quite lethal.[3] White phosphorous has an oxidation state of +0 with a tetrahedral structure and is created by mixing phosphorous ore with sand and coke. This material will spontaneously ignite in room temperature, an irregularity attributed to the extreme bond strain involved in the bonding of four phosphorus atoms in a tetrahedral configuration.[2]

Red Phosphorous

This form of phosphorus is much more stable than its white counterpart, being both nontoxic and much less flammable. This material is also highly insolvent and very resistant to electricity.[3] Heating up white phosphorus to 250 degrees Celsius will create this material, as will simply leaving it in sunlight for a period of time. This allotrope of phosphorous easily reverts back to its white counterpart, however, with frictional heating usually enough to do the job. [4]

Black Phosphorus

The most stable form of phosphorus, this flaky allotrope is very similar in its composition to graphite, with puckered layers orientated parallel to the ac plane (A plane at right angles to the surface of movement in a crystal). [5] [6] A semiconductor, black phosphorus can be prepared under low-pressure conditions at 873 K from red phosphorus via the additional small quantities of gold, tin, and tin(IV) iodide. The least useful of the allotropes, this material has received little attention until recently, as new ways of creating larger black phosphorus crystals have been discovered. [7]


Phosphate rock, containing large amounts of phosphorus ready for extraction

Phosphorous may never be mined in its pure form, but only as phosphate. This compound consists of phosphorus, oxygen, and at least one more element, with an example being calcium phosphate, the most common form of phosphate: Ca3(PO4)2.[3] Phosphorus is usually mined as charged phosphate ions (PO43-), which is how it occurs in minerals, or as organophosphates in which there are organic molecules attached to one, two or three of the oxygen atoms.

Phosphorous can also be found in the organic environment as well. The amount found in different foodstuffs varies considerably but can be as high as 370 mg/100 g in the liver, or virtually nonexistent, as in vegetable oils. Several foods which contain high concentrations of phosphorus include tuna, salmon, sardines, liver, turkey, chicken, eggs, and cheese (200 g/100 g).

There are many phosphate minerals, the most abundant being forms of apatite. Fluorapatite provides the most extensively mined deposits. Most mining occurs in the United States, which accounts for about one third of the world's phosphate rock. Eighty-six percent of the United State's phosphate rock is mined in North Carolina and Florida, with smaller deposits exploited in Idaho and Utah. Other major sources of phosphate are in Russia, Morocco, Tunisia, Togo and Nauru. All combined, around 153 million tons of phosphate rock worldwide is mined per year. However, as a result of such massive excavations, concerns exist over how long these phosphorous deposits will last. If the world reserves of phosphorus rock is depleted there would be massive implications to the food industry worldwide, with famine widespread, as phosphorus is an essential ingredient in fertilizer.

Very little phosphate is found in the ocean, especially at the surface. As aluminum and calcium phosphates are some of the most common varieties of this element, their insolubility plays a a large role in the absence of this mineral from our waters. Yet even if this wasn't the case, phosphates are quickly used up in the ocean and fall into the deep as organic debris. More phosphate may exist in rivers and lakes, resulting in plethoric amounts of algae growth.[8][3]


Phosphorus is used to create many different types of explosives in warfare, including grenades.

Phosphorus has many practical applications in across many different fields of study, innovation, and industry. This material is used in the metallurgical industry to form metallic alloys as the phosphorous brass, The farming industry in the production of insecticides, and in the manufacturing industry to make industrial oils.Phosphoric acid is used as an additive in certain drinks as well as in the cleaning of some metals or as a phosphatizing agent.

But it is in the form of phosphate salts that the element has the largest applications. The fertilizer industry almost absorbs all extracted phosphates of the rocks. There are several types of fertilizers obtained from phosphates, usually mixed with potash or ammonia salts. The phosphate salts are also used in the production of synthetic detergents (sodium polyphosphate) and in tooth paste (calcium phosphate). Some condensed phosphates are used in industrial water treatment. [9]

Red phosphorus

Other than being found in matches red phosphorus employs itself in many different areas of manufacturing. Used in both fertilizers and pesticides, this material, when used in differing amounts and applications, may either strengthen a plant or harm it. Red phosphorus is also used in the production of methamphetamine, which, though usually known for its destructive capabilities, is also used in the treatment of obesity and ADHD. This material also finds use in smoke bombs, pyrotechnics, flame retardants, semi-conductors, and electroluminescent coatings. In short, a very valuable allotrope to the industrial sector. [10]

An application of red phosphorus, this compound's stability allows the match tip to remain unlit until friction is applied.

Black Phosphorus

The most expensive and difficult allotrope to create, this material does not have any significant uses, and has not been very thoroughly studied. Recently, however, new methods fore creating larger black phosphorus crystals have been discovered, and possible applications for this highly conductive material in electronics are currently being explored. [11] [12]

White phosphorus

Also known as 'Willy Pete' to those in the military, this highly reactive and explosive material finds many applications in warfare. This material can be used to dispel smoke and illuminate areas, as well as create massive explosions and melt directly through metal. Burns created due to this material take much longer to heal, though for reasons unclear; the lipid solubility is believed to play a part, as it may enable the phosphorous to achieve rapid penetration through the skin. This material also has several contrasting uses, such as to create smoke in addition to dispelling it. white phosphorous smoke is very different than normal smoke, however, and burns the skin on contact. Due to white phosphorus's extremely dangerous nature in military application, it is banned in several treaties, though the U.S. has not signed any.

Beyond military application, white phosphorus has a use in an extremely wide range of products. From soda pop to toothpaste to food additives - this material can even be found in glass and china! Enjoying many applications in the metals industry, white phosphorus is used to strengthen steel and bronze. White phosphorus is also used to create methamphetamine, a dangerous drug used to treat some health problems but widely abused. [13]

Importance to Organic Life

Overshadowing all applications to industry and other human purposes, the element phosphorus is an indispensable component of all living organisms. Cellular transport would not be possible without this element, leaving enzymatic reactions impossible. Phosphorus also binds deoxyribose sugars together, making the formation of DNA possible; RNA is also held together by phosphorus.[14]


Hennig Brand's discovery of phosphorous, forever immortalized

Hennig Brand, an alchemist, was a man who married well. Due to his wife's status in life he could pursue experiments at his pleasure. The discoverer of phosphorus, Brand did so in quite an interesting manner. Convinced of a correlation between the gold color of human urine and gold itself, he began to distill a large amount of the urine, hoping to get even richer off the liquid. Disappointed to find that gold did not indeed cause the color of urine, Brand then noticed the odd glow of the vapor which came off the it. Also, once this gas escaped and came in contact with the air it would burst into flame. Brand ran some tests and discovered the intensity of the heat did not matter, the glow and flammability of this substance seemed to be an intrinsic property. Unsure of what type of material this was, Brand hypothesized this material might be an essence of the body, or maybe even the philosopher's stone itself. Brand unsuccessfully attempted for several years to transmute his find into gold, though he did manage to make money off it in a more traditional way: by selling it to other envious scientists who couldn't reproduce the substance themselves. Brand was very secretive about his methods of obtaining his substance, wishing perhaps to bestow upon himself the mysterious and powerful air which so many alchemists reached for. This substance remained extremely difficult to procure until around a hundred years later, in 1779. Two Swedish chemists, Carl Scheele and Johan Gahn, discovered this element could be found in much higher quantities within bone. This discovery made the procurement of phosphorus much easier, and led directly to the use of phosphorus lamps.[15] Since then, the usage and acquisition of this element has expanded rapidly, especially within the last hundred years. In fact, the massive expansion of phosphorus mining has led to doubts as to whether current phosphorus reserves are to hold out much longer. The largest phosphate rock mine the U.S., which is the largest supplier of phosphate rock in the world, is only expected to continue production for about twenty more years. The current easily accessible phosphate resources are depleting, and when they peak the world will become a very different place.[14]


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