14 Common Uses for Oxygen the Element in Everyday Life

Oxygen is an odorless and colorless gas with atomic number 8 on the periodic table. This chemical element is also known as O and along with sulfur, selenium, tellurium and polonium, they fall into the category of chalcogens. The chalcogens is a group of chemical elements that occupy column number 16 and share similar physical and chemical characteristics. Oxygen is the third the most abundant chemical element that can be found in nature. About 20% of the Earth’s atmosphere is composed of diatomic oxygen or O2. So, here are common uses for oxygen the element in daily life:

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Chemical Properties of Oxygen

Swedish-German chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele was the first person who discovered the existence of oxygen. He tried to analyze the reaction between melted saltpetre and acetic acid which resulted to the production of a red vapor. This discovery then led other scientists to come up with a bunch of combustion theories and further experiments. The term oxygen was first coined by Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, a chemist from France, in 1777. Although it was first discovered in the late of 18th century, ancient civilizations and older scientists had conducted various experiments before.

Oxygen has melting point of −218.79 °C and boiling point of −182.962 °C. It is odorless, tasteless and colorless. There are four allotropes or different forms of oxygen: atomic oxygen, singlet oxygen, tetraoxygen and solid oxygen. This chemical element dissolves easily in water.

Oxygen is highly reactive so that cautious management is very needed. It is one of the most abundant gases in nature. Diatomic oxygen is one of the most essential gases and it is very important for cellular respiration in living organisms. Common uses of oxygen and its allotropes are varied. Living creatures use this chemical element for different purposes inside their bodies. Humans use oxygen to help them produce various things, heal diseases, ease daily activities and many other things. Furthermore, oxygen is also used for industrial purposes. Here is the list of common uses for oxygen the element:

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  1. Oxygen’s role in cellular respiration

Eukaryotic organisms needs oxygen to produce energy. Mitochondria or the powerhouse of the cell will convert glucose by oxidizing it. However, there are some cases when mitochondria can produce energy without the help of oxygen. Oxygen is also important in vertebrates’ respiratory system. They convert biochemical energy into adenosine triphosphate or ATP with the help of oxidizing agents.

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  1. Oxygen in human’s respiratory system

Well, this is the common uses for oxygen the element. Humans cannot live without oxygen because they need it to burn the fuel inside their body in exchange for energy. Respiration occurs in both lungs and after a proper gas exchange, oxygen is transported to the entire body parts by blood cells to produce energy. Low oxygen level in blood or hypoxemia can result in various symptoms. A person will have obstructed breathing experiences when they experience hypoxemia. Several cases that can cause hypoxemia are anemia, asthma and suffocation. This situation can be dangerous and fatal so that a prevention is very suggested.

  1. Oxygen in medical applications

Because the experts have noticed the importance of oxygen, they use the chemical element for different medical purposes. Supplemental oxygen is used as a medical treatment for many diseases and disorders in the human body.

Oxygen as a therapy can ease the symptoms or even cure headaches, hypoxemia and carbon monoxide poisoning. Medical personnel will put on oxygen masks on patients with breathing problems. There is also an artificial ventilation machine for people with chronic illness and elderly patients.

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  1. Oxygen in space suits

As there is no oxygen in outer space, engineers and other experts must come up with a solution to help astronauts breathe while carrying out their missions. International space agencies have developed a variety of space suits to accommodate their people. The suits are equipped with a tank full of pure oxygen. But because manned space missions are dangerous and expensive at the same time, they also have to modify the suits to facilitate the astronauts properly.

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  1. Oxygen as diving equipment

Divers and underwater vehicles such as submarines depend on sufficient oxygen supply when they submerge. Scuba divers swim with oxygen tanks on their backs. Pressurized tanks or oxygen generators can also be found in submarines. An oxygen generators electrolyse water to produce oxygen and hydrogen.

The crew on board will be able to breathe freely without having to wear masks. But there are several cases when the generator fails to produce the desirable outcome. In 2006, an oxygen generator failure forced the ISS crew to wear face masks after a leak of potassium hydroxide occurred.

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  1. Oxygen for recreational use

Oxygen vending machines and bars can be found, although not easily, in several Western countries. Many believe that oxygen can induce mild euphoria. Several companies produce manufactured oxygen and have them delivered in night clubs and bars.

  1. Oxygen and athletes

Although there is not a lot of researches available, professional athletes sometimes wear oxygen masks to enhance their performance. Some also get into an oxygen chamber, which can increase the oxygen level in blood.

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  1. Oxygen for industrial use

What’s more common uses for oxygen the element? The process of smelting iron ores relies on oxygen heavily. The workers blow oxygen through a lance into molted iron. This step removes excessive carbon content. Oxygen is also used to produce ethylene glycol. This organic compound has the ability to transfer heat. Due to its ability, it is used in air conditioners and as a coolant in personal computers. Ethylene glycol is also used in the process of making plastic.

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  1. Oxygen in combustion processes

Since oxygen is flammable and highly reactive, oxidizers are common in rockets. Oxidizers will allow the rapid process of combustion. But there are times when there is no sufficient oxidizers in the open air so that rockets need to carry up their own oxidizer materials. Oxygen is also needed to heat homes and power different types of vehicles and that’s the common uses for oxygen the element.

  1. Oxygen to combat bacteria

Scientists have proven that oxygen can kill harmful bacteria inside the human body. While it is dangerous for bad bacteria, it will selectively leave advantageous bacteria alone. High level of oxygen will not allow those bacteria to grow and survive.

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  1. Oxygen and cancer

Although the cure for cancer is yet to be found, the connection between oxygen and cancer is real. Nobel laureate Otto Heinrich Warburg has proven in 1931 that the lack of oxygen in cells could lead into cancer. His breakthrough inspires other scientists to find the cure for this disease.

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Cautions to Know

There are many common uses for oxygen the element in everyday life, but let’s take a look the cautions of oxygen here:

  1. Oxygen poisoning

As mentioned above, patients sometimes wear masks to help them breathe easily. But dissolved oxygen on neurons can increase the risk of stroke and cause seizures. Oxygen toxicity can also occur during the process of therapy. It has become a big concern for divers because the sudden increase of partial pressure can happen anytime. This situation can damage cells and result in death. Low blood sugar level can contribute to oxygen poisoning. Therefore the right amount of food intake before using oxygen masks or chamber is needed.

  1. Skin irritation

Skin irritation can happen when someone uses oxygen therapy too often. They sometimes experience painful sensation after using oxygen mask. Skin also tend to go blemish and reddish.

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  1. Fire hazards

Serious precautions have to be taken during the use of oxygen-based tools such as tanks and chambers. Even though oxygen is not flammable, it can boost the process of combustion. The chemical element will react easily when it meets fire. High concentration of oxygen in a particular source is dangerous. You may also read: Fireworks Elements

4. Safety issues in vehicle

Because oxygen is reactive, air fuel mixture of pure oxygen in ignition engine is hazardous. Incomplete burning in the fuel tank is also harmful for the environment as it produces more carbon monoxide and nitric oxide.

Thus, all creatures in the earth cannot live without oxygen, so thankful for free oxygen we breath every second. Meanwhile, the current issue is oxygen can’t be endangered thing cause of the illegal logging. To be wise, let’s save trees to create more oxygen to live.

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