Hydrogen–(Gr. hydro, water, and genes, forming), H; atomic weight (natural) 1.0079; atomic weight (H1) 1.007822; atomic number 1; melting point –259.14°C; boiling point –252.87°C; density 0.08988 g/1; density (liquid) 70.8 g/1 (–253°C); density (solid) 70.6 g/1 (–262°C); valence 1.
Hydrogen was prepared many years before it was recognized as a distinct substance by Cavendish in 1766. It was named by Lavoisier. Hydrogen is the most abundant of all elements in the universe, and it is thought that the heavier elements were, and still are, being built from hydrogen and helium.
It has been estimated that hydrogen makes up more than 90% of all the atoms or three quarters of the mass of the universe. It is found in the sun and most stars, and plays an important part in the proton-proton reaction and carbon-nitrogen cycle, which accounts for the energy of the sun and stars. It is thought that hydrogen is a major component of the planet Jupiter and that at some depth in the planet's interior the pressure is so great that solid molecular hydrogen is converted into solid metallic hydrogen. In 1973, it was reported that a group of Russian experimenters may have produced metallic hydrogen at a pressure of 2.8 Mbar. At the transition the density changed from 1.08 to 1.3 g/cm3. Earlier, in 1972, a Livermore (California) group also reported on a similar experiment in which they observed a pressure-volume point centered at 2 Mbar. It has been predicted that metallic hydrogen may be metastable; others have predicted it would be a superconductor at room temperature.
On earth, hydrogen occurs chiefly in combination with oxygen in water, but it is also present in organic matter such as living plants, petroleum, coal, etc. It is present as the free element in the atmosphere, but only to the extent of less than 1 ppm, by volume. It is the lightest of all gases, and combines with other elements, sometimes explosively, to form compounds. Great quantities of hydrogen are required commercially for the fixation of nitrogen from the air in the Haber ammonia process and for the hydrogenation of fats and oils. It is also used in large quantities in methanol production, in hydrodealkylation, hydrocracking, and hydrodesulfurization. It is also used as a rocket fuel, for welding, for production of hydrochloric acid, for the reduction of metallic ores, and for filling balloons. The lifting power of 1 ft3 of hydrogen gas is about 0.076 1b at 0°C, 760 mm pressure.
Production of hydrogen in the U.S. alone several amounts to several billion cubic feet per year. It is prepared by the action of steam on heated carbon, by decomposition of certain hydrocarbons with heat, by the electrolysis of water, or by the displacement from acids by certain metals. It is also produced by the action of sodium or potassium hydroxide on aluminum.
Liquid hydrogen is important in cryogenics and in the study of superconductivity as its melting point is only a few degrees above absolute zero. The ordinary isotope of hydrogen, 1H1, is known as protium. In 1932, Urey announced the preparation of a stable isotope, deuterium1H2 or D) with an atomic weight of 2. Two years later an unstable isotope, tritium1H3), with an atomic weight of 3 was discovered. Tritium has a half-life of about 12.5 years. One atom of deuterium is found mixed in with about 6000 ordinary hydrogen atoms. Tritium atoms are also present but in much smaller proportion. Tritium is readily produced in nuclear reactors and is used in the production of the hydrogen bomb. It is also used as a radioactive agent in making luminous paints, and as a tracer.
Quite apart from isotopes, it has been shown that hydrogen gas under ordinary conditions is a mixture of two kinds of molecules, known as ortho- and para-hydrogen, which differ from one another by the spins of their electrons and nuclei. Normal hydrogen at room temperature contains 25% of the para form and 75% of the ortho form. The ortho form cannot be prepared in the pure state. Since the two forms differ in energy, the physical properties also differ. The melting and boiling points of para-hydrogen are about 0.1°C lower than those of normal hydrogen. (See also Cryogenic Fluids.)