Fifteenth (15th) element on the Periodic Table, Phosphorus is quite an interesting element. It was discovered by an alchemist and hence, the method of its extraction was not revealed. In this article on Phosphorus facts, we are going to learn a lot about this element including its history and discovery, characteristics, uses, abundance, isotopes and more. Are you ready for it? Let’s begin…

Phosphorus Facts: Some Basic Information at a Glance

Element NamePhosphorus
Element SymbolP
Element FamilyNonmetal
ColorUsually, white Phosphorus has a pale-yellow color.
Atomic Weight30.97376
Melting Point317.3 K or 44.2˚C
Boiling Point553.7 K or 280.5˚C
Density at 20˚C1.82gm/cm3
Number of Electrons15
Number of Protons15
Number of Neutrons (as found in most abundant isotope)16
Electronic Configuration1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p3
Known Isotopes24 isotopes with just one stable isotope
Element StructureWhite Phosphorus has P4 tetrahedral arrangement.
Atomic Radius100 pm
Hardness0.5 mohs

Phosphorus Facts: Isotopes of Phosphorus

Isotope NameType and AbundanceHalf-Life (HL)
24PRadioactive? (Not known)
25PRadioactive< 30 ns
26PRadioactive43.7 (6) ms
27PRadioactive260 (80) ms
28PRadioactive270.3 (5) ms
29PRadioactive4.142 (15) s
30PRadioactive2.498 (4) min
31PStable (100% natural abundance)Does not decay and hence, no HL.
32PRadioactive14.263 (3) d
33PRadioactive25.34 (12) d
34PRadioactive12.43 (8) s
35PRadioactive47.3 (7) s
36PRadioactive5.6 (3) s
37PRadioactive2.31 (13) s
38PRadioactive0.64 (14) s
39PRadioactive190 (50) ms
40PRadioactive153 (8) ms
41PRadioactive100 (5) ms
42PRadioactive48.5 (15) ms
43PRadioactive36.5 (15) ms
44PRadioactive18.5 (25) ms
45PRadioactive8# ms (>200 ns)
46PRadioactive4# ms (>200 ns)
47PRadioactiveNo data available


ns: Nanoseconds

ms: Milliseconds

s: Seconds

d: Days

#: Data not derived from pure experimental data but partly derived from systematic trends.

(*): Value in parentheses [such as (25)] after the last digit represents uncertainties in a concise form.

Okay, now that we have the list of isotopes of Phosphorus in tabular format, it is important that we move on to the facts promised. Ready?

Phosphorus Facts: 1-5 | History, and Discovery

1. The element was discovered in the year 1669. The man behind the discovery was Hennig Brand – a German citizen.

2. Hennig was an alchemist and just like any other alchemist, he never revealed his methods. He was totally secretive about the methods he used.

3. However, it is known that Hennig used urine to produce Phosphorus. It is a well-known fact that there are considerable quantities of phosphates dissolved in human urine.

4. After he discovered Phosphorus, Brand named it ‘cold fire’. The reason was quite obvious. What he discovered actually glowed in the dark. It is luminous.

5. Though Hennig didn’t really make his methods public, he sold his methods to Kunckel von Lowenstern and Johann Daniel Kraft.

Phosphorus Facts: 6-10 | History and Discovery

6. He sold his methods even to Leibniz. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is well known for discovering calculus independent of Isaac Newton.

7. Leibniz – despite being a mathematician of the highest caliber – thought like an alchemist. He believed that Brand may eventually discover the fabled Philosopher’s Stone simply by producing large quantities of Phosphorus. Leibniz was plain – WRONG!

8. Now, you may ask, what process did Brand use to produce Phosphorus element? Possibly, Brand evaporated the urine to get a black residue.

9. Brand, then most likely left the residue for several months before heating it up with sand. This ensured that different types of oils and gases were driven off from the residue.

10. Those oils and gases were channeled to be condensed using water. The final substance that was driven off from the black residue and finally condensed using water was Phosphorus element.

Phosphorus Facts: 11-15 | History and Discovery

11. The method described above was actually a popularly used method by the alchemists of Brand’s time.

12. Alchemists usually used this method for the study of fluids present in the body with a hope that they will get a better understanding of living things.

13. Alchemists did this in their pursuit of Philosopher’s stone that they believed could give eternal life.

14. In 1737, a man sold Brand’s method to Academy of Sciences located in Paris. The man did not reveal his identity. With this, Brand’s method of producing Phosphorous element became widely known. Indeed, he used the traditional alchemical process.

15. Brand’s method of Phosphorous production became common until the 1770s. During the 1770s, Carl Wilhelm Scheele figured out that Phosphorous can be produced even from bones. In case you don’t know, Scheele discovered Chlorine and independently discovered Oxygen around the same time when others discovered Oxygen.

Phosphorous Facts: 16-20 | Jaw-Dropping Phosphorus Facts

16. ‘Phosphoros’ – the Greek word is the source of the element’s name – Phosphorus. Phosphoros actually means – ‘bringer of light’.

17. Phosphorus is actually one of the few elements that had its own ‘Alchemy Symbol’.

18. Alchemists had the notion that light was a representation of ‘spirit’. This made Phosphorus a very fascinating substance for them. Why? Because Phosphorus has the ability to contain light.

19. Pure Phosphorus element can burn in air spontaneously! However, this is the case only with White Phosphorus.

20. During ancient times, the planet Venus had a different name when seen right before sunrise. The name was none other than Phosphorus.

Phosphorus Facts: 21-25 | Jaw-Dropping Phosphorus Facts

21. Discovery of Phosphorus element by Hennig Brad made him the first person in the history of mankind to discover an element. Well, Silver and Gold were already known prior to that but they lack a named discoverer.

22. Discovery of Phosphorus was very similar to the discovery of planet Uranus. William Herschel who discovered Uranus in 1781 became the first person to discover a planet. Of course, other planets were known to man for thousands of years but, they did not have a named discovered.

23. Herschel became the first person to see Uranus and identify it as a new planet, making him the first person to discover a planet.

24. Phosphorus is indeed vital for life (not pure Phosphorus element but Phosphorus compounds).

25. This element is the 6th most abundant element to be present in living organisms. The first 5 are Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, and Calcium (in the order they are written).

Phosphorus Facts: 26-30 | Phosphorus Properties

26. Talk of toxicity and White Phosphorus is something you should avoid. It is highly toxic. If it comes in contact with your skin, it will result in severe burns.

27. Red Phosphorus, on the other hand, is not toxic. However, if it gets contaminated with White Phosphorus, it will become toxic.

28. One of the most important White Phosphorus properties is that it is very reactive. It is solid with a white-yellow color. It is waxy.

29. White Phosphorus is known for its luminescence. In presence of Oxygen, this element will have a faint green glow.

30. Phosphorus (White) can be dissolved in Carbon Disulfide. It is insoluble in water.

Phosphorus Facts: 31-35 | Phosphorus Properties

31. White Phosphorus, when comes it comes in contact with air, ignites spontaneously. The end result of this reaction is the formation of Pentoxide represented as P4O10.

32. Phosphorus element also exists in form of allotropes. There are two primary allotropic forms. They are – Red Phosphorus and Black (or Violet) Phosphorus.

33. White Phosphorus can be converted into Red Phosphorus by simply heating it or by exposing it to sunlight.

34. It is important to note that if White Phosphorus is to be converted into Red Phosphorus by the process of heating, the temperature required is 300˚C and air should not be present.

35. The structure of Black Phosphorus is similar to that of Graphite. It is also the least reactive of all forms of Phosphorus.

Phosphorus Facts: 36-40 | Phosphorus Uses

36. There are many important Phosphorus uses. However, if you ask this question – ‘what is the daily use of Phosphorus?’, the answer to the questions is – LED. Yes, we use LED lights on a daily basis and Phosphorus is used to make them. LED is known as Light Emitting Diode.

37. We also use steel on a daily basis (in some form or the other). Did you know that steel production requires Phosphorus?

38. Do you know what Phosphor Bronze is? It is an alloy consisting of Copper, 0.5 to 11% Tin and Phosphorus (0.01% to 0.35%). One of the uses of this alloy is that of manufacturing propellers of ships. It is also used for making some dental bridges, fasteners, springs, and bolts.

39. We often use safety matches. They are manufactured using Red Phosphorus.

40. Phosphorus is also used in the manufacturing of incendiary shells and in pyrotechnics (fireworks for military application).

Phosphorus Facts: 41-45 | Phosphorus Uses (Biological Role)

41. For living things, Phosphorus has a very important role to play. This element forms the sugar-phosphate backbone of RNA and DNA.

42. We know that energy transfer takes place in our cells. This is possible because of ATP or Adenosine Triphosphate. You get it right? There is Phosphorus there. Phosphate can be formed only by Phosphorus.

43. Human body stores 750 grams (mind it, it is grams and not milligrams) of Phosphates. Majority of this stash is found in bones.

44. Phosphorus is a vital nutrient when it comes to plant life. Plants take in Phosphorus element in form of Phosphate compounds.

45. Phosphorus compounds are used for manufacturing fertilizers that are used for agricultural purposes. Ammonium Phosphate is one such fertilizer which is manufactured using Phosphate ores.

Phosphorus Facts: 46-50 | Phosphorus Facts & Phosphorus Cycle

46. Did you know there is something called ‘Strike Anywhere Matches’? These matches are designed to ignite when struck against any surface. The reason is that the tips of these matchsticks are laced with tiny amounts of White Phosphorus along with the Red Phosphorus.

47. Phosphorus came to Earth through meteorites. In Journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, a study was published in the year 2013. The study said that Phosphorus was pretty abundant on Earth by 3.5 billion years ago!

48. According to the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, if blood-phosphorus levels are high, it indicates a higher calcification rate of coronary arteries. This means that phosphorus can actually become a warning signal for heart disease.

49. Did you know there is something called Phosphorus Cycle? It is a biogeochemical cycle. This Phosphorus Cycle tells how Phosphorus moves through biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere.

50. For the biogeochemical cycles of other elements like Nitrogen and Carbon, the atmosphere plays an important role. However, in the case of Phosphorus, the atmosphere does not have a significant role to play.

Phosphorus Facts: 51-55 | Phosphorus Cycle

51. The reason why the atmosphere doesn’t play an important role because Phosphorus and its compounds are not found in gaseous forms under typical pressure and temperature ranges.

52. Phosphorus element and its compounds are usually found in solid forms. What about Phosphine gas? Well, it requires local special conditions for formation.

53. Phosphates have been found to move quickly through both animals, and plants. However, the processes of its movement through ocean and soil are very slow. So, from the overall aspect, the Phosphorus Cycle is the slowest of all biogeochemical cycles.

54. It is interesting to note that the availability of Phosphorus on land gradually decreases over thousands of years. This happens because its loss because of surface runoff is low.

Surface runoff refers to water flow occurring when excess meltwater, stormwater and other sources flow on surface of Earth. This may happen because the soil may already be saturated and rain arrives way sooner than soil’s ability to absorb the water. Also, the surface may be impervious (such as pavements and roofs) resulting in water spilling off to surrounding soil, which fails to absorb the water because it is already saturated.

55. When the concentration of Phosphorus element in soil decreases, plants fail to get it in abundance. This, in turn, reduces the growth of plants. Microbial growth in soils also slows down. In Phosphorus Cycle, microorganisms act as sources and sinks of Phosphorus.

Phosphorus Facts: 56-60 | Phosphorus Cycle and Peak Phosphorus

56. Humans are responsible for changes in the Phosphorus Cycle globally. This cycle has been significantly altered because of shipping of Phosphorus minerals.

57. Other human activities that have resulted in the change in global Phosphorus Cycle include increased used of Phosphorus-based fertilizers, food shipping to cities from farms. These activities lead to Phosphorus loss in form of sewage water.

58. Peak Phosphorus is supposed to reach by the year 2030. Peak Phosphorus refers to a point in time maximum global production of Phosphorus as commercial and industrial raw material will be reached.

59. After Peak Phosphorus, the availability of Phosphorus will decline, making mining incredibly difficult over time. It will become pricier and pricier over years.

60. What happens when Peak Phosphorus is reached? World agriculture system will take a hit and go in disarray. What will happen when agriculture takes hit? There will be food scarcity on a global scale.

Phosphorus Facts: 61-65 | Abundance, Production & Abuse by Humans

61. In nature, Phosphorus is not available in form of a free element. It is always found as some mineral or the other.

62. When it comes to its abundance in the whole of the Solar System, the element is present as 7 parts per million by weight. By moles, it is 300 parts per billion.

63. The abundance of Phosphorus in Earth’s crust is 1,050 parts per million by weight. By moles, it is 730 parts per million.

64. In order to produce Phosphorus element commercially, Phosphate rock (also known as Calcium Phosphate) is taken and put in a furnace along with Carbon and Silica. Once they are heated together, tetraphosphorus is produced in vaporized form. This vapor is then condensed underwater to form White Phosphorus. Under-water condensation is necessary for prevention of oxidation.

65. Humans have successfully discovered the noxious attributes of Phosphorus and they abuse those properties. They use compounds containing Phosphorus as weapons like nerve agents and explosives.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

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