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General Info
Atomic Symbol Atomic symbol::S
Atomic Number Atomic number::16
Atomic Weight Atomic weight::32.065 g/mol
Chemical series Nonmetals
Appearance Lemon Yellow
Group, Period, Block 16, 3, p
Electron configuration [Ne] 3s2 3p4
Electrons per shell 2, 8, 6
Electron shell Sulfur.png
CAS number CAS number::7704-34-9
Physical properties
Phase solid
Density Density::2.07 g/ml
Melting point Melting point::388.36 K
Boiling point Boiling point::717.8 K
Isotopes of Sulfur
iso NA half-life DT DE (MeV) DP
32S 95.02% 32S is stable with 16 neutrons.
33S 0.75% 33S is stable with 17 neutrons.
34S 4.21% 34S is stable with 18 neutrons.
35S syn 87.32 d β- 0.167 35Cl
36S 0.02% 36S is stable with 20 neutrons.
All properties are for STP unless otherwise stated.

Sulfur is a non-metallic chemical element with a bright yellow color, which is known by the chemical symbol "S". It is essential to life on earth, and is a poor conductor of both heat and electricity. Number 16 on the period table, sulfur has an atomic mass of 32.06 and is very brittle. It is an element that has been known since the ancient times, since it has very noticeable reactions and can be found naturally in its pure form. Sulfur's name comes from the Latin word “sulpher,” which means brimstone. [1] Sulfur is an extremely useful element for manufacturing, fertilizing, bleaching, preserving, and healing. It was officially discovered to be an element in 1777 by Antoine Lavoisier, commonly known as the father of chemistry. This element is both odorless and tasteless. Sulfur is very chemically active and can easily bind with other elements. [2]


Sulfur at room temperature, forming a yellow crystal.

Sulfur, an abundant element on earth, is tasteless, odorless, and yellow in color. In its natural state, sulfur is a cystalline solid, but can also be found as a sulfate mineral or as a sulfide. [3] Sulfur is very soft, light in weight, and extremely brittle. It is one of the select few elements that can be found in its pure form naturally. Because it is a non-metal, it is a poor conductor of heat and electricity, has a very low metallic luster, and has a high ionization energy and electronegativity. [4]Though sulfur is insoluble in water, it can dissolve into carbon disulfide. Naturally occurring sulfur (four of sulfurs isotopes) are not radioactive, though many of sulfurs other known isotopes have radioactive properties. [5]This element is multivalent, which means it has a valence electron count of over three electrons. [6] In optimal circumstances, sulfur can combine with every single element except for platinum, gold, and gases. [7] This element has a burning point of 112.8 degrees Celsius, or 235.04 degrees Fahrenheit. Sulfur also has a very high boiling point, at an enormous 444.6 degrees Celsius, or 832.28 degrees Fahrenheit. [8]Sulfur is indeed unique, for it is one of the few elements that exhibits allotropism, a remarkable ability that allows sulfur to exist in multiple forms without actually changing its physical state. Depending on the temperature, sulfur can form into different crystal shapes, most commonly the monoclinic (meaning the crystal contains three uneven axes that intersect on one point) or rhombic (meaning the crystal has a rhombus-like shape). Below 356 degrees Fahrenheit the rhombic form is the most stable, but generally anything above that temperature the monoclinic form is the most stable. [9]

Unlike some of the other elements on the periodic table, sulfur was discovered centuries before modern technology was introduced to society. The ancients were the first ones to detect the element, for it occurs naturally and is very noticeable. Sulfur’s most evident chemical property is its ability to burn, which releases a pale blue flame and a very strong and unpleasant odor. Unlike the common misconception, sulfur does not actually produce any unfortunate smell, it is actually the result of its oxidation into sulfur dioxide. The most well-known sulfur compound is called hydrogen sulfide or sulphide (H2S), which, just like sulfur dioxide, is infamous for its rotten, egg-like smell. Once again, though many think of sulfur as the element that produces such putrid odors, it is actually characteristic of the combination of hydrogen and sulfur. [10]


A deposit of sulfur.

Many different forms of sulfur can be found all over the earth. This element is present on the earth's surface, in the earth's atmosphere, in the earth's crust, deep within earth's core, and even in meteorites. Sulfur is estimated to make up 0.05% of the mass of earth's crust. Along with being the thirteenth most abundant element within the earth's crust, sulfur also ranks as the sixteenth in nature. [11]Sulfur has been found in immense underground beds that are made of 99.8% pure uncombined sulfur. Also, sulfur deposits have been found over the whole planet, mainly in and around volcanic locations or hot springs. Though on a global scale sulfur deposits are quite bountiful, finding a location with a high enough amount of naturally-occurring sulfur for commercial purposes is a rare occurrence.[12] The Pacific Ring of Fire is known to house areas of sulfur, and large volcanic deposits of sulfur can be found in Indonesia, Japan, and Chile. In history, all the way from ancient times to the Industrial Revolution, Sicily was a major source of sulfur deposits for commercial use. Sulfur is also present in evaporates, which are caused by the evaporation of sea water, resulting in sedimentary deposits. [13] These evaporites are mainly found in western Asia and eastern Europe. Salt domes also contain elemental sulfur, which can be found off of Mexico's coast. [14]

In nature, sulfur almost always is found in compounds. Most commonly, sulfur binds to a metal element, which produces a sulfide or a sulfate. Some of the most common sulfates are calcium sulfate (more commonly known as gypsum), barium sulfate (barite), and potassium aluminum sulfate (alunite). Some of the most common sulfide minerals are antimony sulfide (stibnite), mercury sulfide (cinnabar), lead sulfide (galena), zinc sulfide (sphalerite), and iron sulfide (pyrite). [15] Though essential to life, sulfur can be extremely damaging to the earth's environment. When sulfur dioxide (created by fossil fuel combustion) reacts with other chemicals such as nitrogen oxide and natural sources like decaying materials, water, or volcano emissions in the atmosphere, a deadly phenomenon called acid rain occurs. Acid rain can form into snow, fog, dust, mist, gas, rain, or smoke, depending on the weather. All forms of acidic rain are harmful to the earth, more or less so depending on its PH ("Potential of Hydrogen"[16]) level. Different forms of life (insects, foliage, mammals, etc) will die if the PH level is too high or low. Mainly produced by human activity, acid rain is a major threat to the well-being of the planet. Humans are heavily effected by acid rain as well, for it can result in morbidity and mortality risks like lung inflammation (often in the forms of asthma or emphysema). [17] [18]


The seemingly limitless ways to use sulfur establishes it as a very important and valued element. Besides being essential for life, sulfur also is very useful for some every-day products that can be found in the home. The production of hundreds of modern products rely on the element sulfur. For industrial application, sulfur is often converted to sulfuric acid, which is vital for the manufacturing of steel, cellophane, cement, animal feed, glass, fumigants, matches, adhesives, and explosives. Sulfuric acid is also used for manufacturing salt blocks, refining sugar and petroleum, and for rubber manufacturing and vulcanization (a process which strengthens, increases resistance to extreme temperatures and solvents, and increases the elasticity of rubber). [19] Fertilizers, like ammonium sulfate and phosphates, also need sulfur for its manufacturing. Moving on to another form of sulfur: powder. Sulfur powder is needed for the extraction of minerals, waste water processing, bleaching of paper, the manufacturing of agrochemicals, fungicides, dyes, and is even used to preserve dried fruits. This incredible element is also useful for those suffering from merely annoying or very harmful skin conditions. Because of its antibacterial, antifungal, and keratolytic properties, sulfur is very useful for eradicating acne and other oily skin problems. Sulfur can also be found in soap bars, lotions, creams, and medicated ointments. For more serious conditions, like warts, acne vulgaris, rosacea, pityriasis versicolor, and scabies, sulfur is helpful as well. In minute doses stretched over a long period of time (a process called homeopathy), sulfur can be used to treat hypothyroidism, arthritis, and piles, which are inflamed hemorrhoids.[20]

An Early History of Sulfur

Antoine Lavoisier, the father of chemistry.

Sulfur has been known since nearly the beginning of mankind. A notorious element in the Bible, sulfur was first mentioned when God ". . . rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah" (Genesis 19:24). It is believed that sulfur was used in ancient times for coloring in cave paintings (useful because of its characteristic yellow color) and even to cleanse blood. Writings by the Assyrians about sulfur have been found; they reference the element as the "product of the riverside." These texts (dated from 600 to 700 BC) were most likely referring to the sulfur deposits located near bodies of water. [21] As early as the 16th century BC, sulfur was known to the Egyptians. It is recorded that they used sulfur as a type of bleach for different cloths, such as cotton or linen. The legendary poet Homer referred to sulfur as fumigant, now a modern term for chemicals used in pest control. This practice was discovered by the Greeks and Romans used to clean insects out of their homes. [22] Roman priests also used sulfur to light up their places of worship with a pale blue glow. Additionally, they also used sulfur to cleanse the rooms of the sick and draw out any evil spirits lingering. It is recorded that the Romans were the first ones to discover the use of sulfur for weaponry in war as well. By combining sulfur with different elements like rosin, tar, bitumen, and other elements with combustion capabilities, the ancient Romans were able to create early types of bombs. Unfortunately, this knowledge disappeared with the downfall of the Roman Empire. It was not until the year 1777 AD that Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier (the "Laurent de" title dropped after the French Revolution) found that sulfur was a single element of its own, and not a compound. The Chinese are credited with the discovery that shaped modern warfare: the existence of gunpowder. By combining sulfur with other substances, the Chinese created the most powerful weapon man had seen during the time of Confucius. This was a well-kept secret until the Crusaders ventured out to the Holy Land and brought back with them knowledge of sulfur's destructive capabilities. As soon as gunpowder was brought to the attention of those in Europe, the demand for sulfur drastically increased. People rushed to find sulfur deposits around the world and for new ways to extract the element. To this day, the production of sulfur contains at a fast pace, and new methods for extraction and new uses for the element are continually discovered. [23]


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  2. Unknown Author. Sulfur: Properties. Fact Monster. Web. 11 December 2012.
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  4. Helmenstine, Anne Marie. Nonmetals . Web. 23 November 2012.
  5. Unknown Author. Sulfur. Radiochemistry. Web. 2 December 2012.
  6. Unknown Author. multivalent.". Web. 23 November 2012.
  7. Unknown Author.Sulfur Properties. Georgia Gulf Sulfur Corporation. Web. 23 November
  8. Bentor, Yinon. Periodic Table-Elements. Chemical Elements”. Web. 26 November 2012.
  9. George, Helga. What are the properties of Sulfur?. Wise Geek. Web. 26 November 2012 .
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  11. Unknown Author. Sulfur Facts. Shell". Web. 27 November 2012.
  12. Unknown Author.Sulfur Properties. Georgia Gulf Sulfur Corporation. Web. 23 November
  13. Unknown Author.Evaporite. The Free Dictionary. Web. 27 November 2012.
  14. Unknown Author. Sulfur, Gypsum, and Hydrocarbons. Sandatlas"'. Web. 27 November 2012.
  15. Unknown Author. The Sulfides Class. Galleries. Web. 27 November 2012.
  16. Unknown Author. Acid Rain. Think Quest. Web. 2 December 2012.
  17. Unknown Author. Effects of Acid Rain. EPA. Web. 2 December 2012.
  18. Unknown Author. Acid Rain. Think Quest'. Web. 2 December 2012.
  19. Unknown Author.vulcanization. Yahoo-education. Web. 11 December 2012.
  20. Unknown Author. Uses of Sulfur. Buzzle. Web. 11 December 2012.
  21. Unknown Author. Sulfur: historical information. WebElements. Web. 27 November 2012.
  22. Unknown Author What is Fumigant?. ehow". Web. 28 November 2012 (or access).
  23. Davis, Donald W., and Detro, Randall A.Sulfur-History. Georgia Gulf Sulfur Corporation. Web. 1992.