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Breakthroughs in Chemistry

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Knights View Drop Down
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    Posted: 20 Jun 2009 at 07:39
To kick off the the Natural Sciences subforum, I have decided to make a topic about breakthroughs -famous, infamous and obscure- in Chemistry throughout history. Here is the place to post and discuss discoveries that have revolutionised science, technology and society, relating to the field of Chemical sciences.

I will start off with the invention of the Haber process, by Fritz Haber (and also Bosch). This process efficiently created ammonia on an industrial scale, vital to making many products (explosives, fertiliser.etc).

Prior to WWI, ammonia extract was largely imported to Europe from South America (namely Chile). It was used to fuel the agricultural boom which was crucial in supplying food for a rapidly growing European population. However with WWI came a halt to the flow of ammonia products to Germany, for processing. The British Navy had blocked access to South America, and subsequently, had prevented Germany from attaining ammonia. This was dire for the Germans, as they relied heavily on fertiliser for agriculture, and on explosives for the war effort. Enter Fritz Haber. He was a Jewish German scientist who saw the need for industrial ammonia production, so he got right to work. The process of creating ammonia gas is difficult as it is heavily dependent on environmental conditions.

OK so I have to include the chemistry behind it all:

The synthesis of Ammonia from Hydrogen and Nitrogen gas is a reversible reaction - given the opportunity, a chemical equilibrium will establish.

(Note: Because I cannot do subscript, a number preceded by an underscore denotes subscript. Also, the number in front of a chemical is its stoichiometric molar ratio. Oh and the two way arrow denotes a reversible equilibrium reaction)

Nitrogen gas + Hydrogen Gas <--> Ammonia gas
N_2(g) + 3H_2(g) <--> 2NH_3(g)

The forward reaction (synthesis of ammonia) is exothermic, meaning that it releases heat. Haber realised that increasing the temperature of the reaction would increase the rate of reaction, because more heat energy allowed for more atomic collisions. So, he increased the reaction vessel to 1000 degrees celsius. However, being an exothermic reaction, Le Chatelier's principle states that increasing the temperature will favour the reverse reaction - that is, ammonia product will be converted back to hydrogen and nitrogen.

Haber also increased the pressure to 200atm (200 times atmospheric pressure). This is because increasing pressure in the reaction vessel will use up gases from the side of the reaction with more stoichiometric moles. In this case, 4 moles of reactants made 2 moles of ammonia product, meaning that increasing pressure would favour the forward reaction, producing ammonia.

To deal with the issue raised by increasing temperature, Haber found a midpoint between rate of reaction and reversing the reaction, at about 400 degrees celsius. This ensured the highest yield of ammonia.

So Haber had invented a means of producing ammonia industrially, for the Germans. Now with ammoina, they had the base product for making fertiliser and explosives, both of which were crucial to sustaining the war effort. Bosch helped in developing the Haber process into an industrially economical method of ammonia production on a nation-wide level.

Funnily enough, Haber, being Jewish, was expelled from Germany later on when the Nazi party rose to power. Talk about unappreciated.

Anyway that was my spiel about a revolutionary process which continues to be a major aspect of modern chemical industry.

Regards,

- Knights -



Edited by Knights - 20 Jun 2009 at 07:43
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Styrbiorn View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Styrbiorn Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20 Jun 2009 at 10:02
Sweden's most well-known chemist:

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Aug 2009 at 19:02
The invention of gunpowder in old China was really a breakthrough in chemistry that later would lead to a revolution in warfare and weapons technology. Without gunpowder and its byproducts, guns, cannons, rockets, the balance of power in the world would probably look quite different. Yes the whole world would be a rather different place.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Knights Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Sep 2009 at 05:15
Oh for sure, Carcharodon. Does anybody have any idea if any particular figures were noted for their part in the development of gunpowder?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote jeffreyfrog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2010 at 15:34
Great info. Ammonia (NH4) is assimilated in more than one way. Plants (such as Hornwort) and algae can assimilate ammonia and ammonium directly for the biosynthesis. The remaining bulk of decomposed byproducts are utilized by bacteria in a process called nitrification. Ammonia does not last long in a healthy aquarium environment, fortunately. Nitrifying bacteria such as Nitrosomonas quickly break down ammonia into less toxic Nitrite (NO2). During this process, specific species of nitrifying bacteria strip the ammonium of its hydrogen molecules as an energy source. Oxygen molecules are then affixed to the stripped nitrogen, forming the oxide nitrite (NO2).

Another group of bacteria (Nitrobacter ) utilize the enzyme nitrite oxidase that is then responsible for converting nitrite into nitrate (NO3). This nitrate can either be used by plants as a nutrient source, or can be further broken down into nitrogen gas (N2) through the activity of anaerobic bacteria such as Pseudomonas .

It should be noted, that without oxygen (nitrification is an oxidative process), none of this process can take place.
It should also be noted that in recent studies the Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter responsible Freshwater nitrification are NOT the same in saltwater.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote kalhor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14 Apr 2010 at 16:16
Originally posted by Styrbiorn Styrbiorn wrote:

Sweden's most well-known chemist:


Dolf Lundgren  surely woulden't  get expelled from germany att that time like haber did LOL


Edited by kalhor - 15 Apr 2010 at 10:32
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Knights Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Apr 2010 at 12:04
Originally posted by jeffreyfrog jeffreyfrog wrote:

Great info. Ammonia (NH4) is assimilated in more than one way. Plants (such as Hornwort) and algae can assimilate ammonia and ammonium directly for the biosynthesis. The remaining bulk of decomposed byproducts are utilized by bacteria in a process called nitrification. Ammonia does not last long in a healthy aquarium environment, fortunately. Nitrifying bacteria such as Nitrosomonas quickly break down ammonia into less toxic Nitrite (NO2). During this process, specific species of nitrifying bacteria strip the ammonium of its hydrogen molecules as an energy source. Oxygen molecules are then affixed to the stripped nitrogen, forming the oxide nitrite (NO2).

Another group of bacteria (Nitrobacter ) utilize the enzyme nitrite oxidase that is then responsible for converting nitrite into nitrate (NO3). This nitrate can either be used by plants as a nutrient source, or can be further broken down into nitrogen gas (N2) through the activity of anaerobic bacteria such as Pseudomonas .

It should be noted, that without oxygen (nitrification is an oxidative process), none of this process can take place.
It should also be noted that in recent studies the Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter responsible Freshwater nitrification are NOT the same in saltwater.



Thanks, JeffreyFrog. The information you provided was interesting to read through. I recall learning about Hornworts in first year biology, and how they are involved in the nitrogen process. It really is bacteria that are the driving force behind the process of course, from nitrification, ammonification and denitrification.etc.

Another process of producing ammonia would be the degredation of amino acids in metabolism, via a transamination process in the liver. Here, a series of reversible reactions (won't go into specifics) generate free ammonium ions, which must be kept at a steady level to prevent toxication, by homeostasis. These ammonium ions provide a starting point for the urea cycle, to remove nitrogenous waste from the body. Do you know much about protein metabolism?

Kind regards,

- Knights -
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