On the Periodic Table, Sulfur is the 16th element. When we say 16th, we mean that the atomic number of the element is 16. Sitting right after Phosphorus, this element is known for its characteristic smell that our noses hate. In this article on Sulfur facts, we will learn about the element in details. So, gear up! There is a lot you will learn today. But, before we start with our facts list, we will take a quick look at the general information about Sulfur and its isotopes in a tabular format. Ready?
Facts about Sulfur: Some Basic Information at a Glance
|Element Family||Chalcogen and Nonmetal|
|Melting Point||388.4 K or 115.2˚C|
|Boiling Point||717.9 K or 444.7˚C|
|Density at 20˚C||2.07 g/cm3|
|Number of Electrons||16|
|Number of Protons||16|
|Number of Neutrons (as found in the most abundant isotope)||16|
|Electronic Configuration||1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p4|
|Known Isotopes||24 isotopes out of which only 4 are stable|
|Element Structure||S8 rings|
|Atomic Radius||100 pm|
Facts about Sulfur: Isotopes of Sulfur
|Isotope Name||Type and Abundance||Half-Life (HL)|
|32S||Stable and 94.99% natural abundance||Does not decay and hence, no HL|
|33S||Stable and 0.75% natural abundance||Does not decay and hence, no HL|
|34S||Stable and 4.25% natural abundance||Does not decay and hence, no HL|
|36S||Stable and 0.01% natural abundance||Does not decay and hence, no HL|
|47S||Radioactive||20# ms [>200 ns]|
|48S||Radioactive||10# ms [>200 ns]|
#: Data not derived from pure experimental data but partly derived from systematic trends.
(*): Value in parentheses [such as (15)] after the last digit represents uncertainties in a concise form. One standard deviation is represented by these uncertainty values.
We are now done with the basic information about Sulfur and its isotopes. It is time we jump on to the facts list. Join us and sharpen your intellect with the information below.
Sulfur Facts: 1-5 | Etymology
1. Sulfur is a nonmetal. It is also a chalcogen. Wondering what a chalcogen is? Well, all elements that belong to Group 16 of the Period Table are known as chalcogens. Those elements include:
2. Mankind has known Sulfur since ancient times. The Bible mentions it as Brimstone.
3. Coming to the name, it is believed that the name Sulfur has been derived from any of the two following sources:
- The Arabic word ‘Sufra’.
- Sanskrit word ‘Shulbari’ [Source: G. Eggert, M. Weichert, H. Euler, B. Barbier, Some news about Black Spots., 2004, Proceedings of Metal, p142 (pdf download)].
4. Sufra in English means Yellow. Sulfur has a pale yellow color. So, Sufra makes quite some sense. However, Sanskrit beats the Arabic word. How?
5. Sanskrit uses the word Shulbari for Sulfur. Breaking the word, the term Shulbari stands for ‘Enemy of Copper’. How? Ari in Sanskrit means enemy while Shulba means Copper.
Sulfur Facts: 6-10 | Etymology
6. The possibility of the term Sulfur being derived from Shulbari is more fascinating compared to the Arabic word Sufra because the Sanskrit term shows the profound knowledge of ancient people. Yes, they had significant knowledge of chemistry.
7. Sulfur indeed reacts with many other elements quite easily and one of those elements is Copper. So technically, Shulbari is the most acceptable source of the name Sulfur.
8. In case you didn’t know Christianity is 2,000 years old while records show that Sanskrit is over 3,000 years old. So, Indians knew about Sulfur even before Christianity came into existence and the Bible was written.
9. Also, Sanskrit is one of the oldest known Indo-European languages in the world.
10. Did you know that for Artificial Intelligence, Sanskrit is THE MOST compatible human language? [Source: Rick Briggs, Knowledge Representation in Sanskrit and Artificial Intelligence., AI Magazine Volume 6 Number 1, 1985, p32]
Sulfur Facts: 11-15 | History
11. It is quite clear that Sulfur has been known to humanity since antiquity. However, no one knows the first person who discovered the element. So, its exact date of discovery is also unknown to us.
12. A poisonous gas called Sulfur Dioxide is produced when Sulfur burns. There used to be a time when Sulfur Dioxide was extensively used for fumigating buildings (that were laced with infectious diseases) in New York. Fumigation is a process of disinfection or purification [Source: Cyrus Edson, Disinfection of Dwellings by Means of Sulphur Dioxide., Public Health Pap Rep., 1889, 15: p65-68].
13. Even before New York came into existence, burning Sulfur was already used for fumigation several thousand years ago. You have heard of The Odyssey by Homer, right? It was written some 2,800 years ago.
14. In ‘The Odyssey’, Odysseus said:
Bring sulfur, old nurse, that cleanses all pollution, and bring me fire, that I may purify the house with sulfur…
[Source: The Odyssey, p270]
15. We know that the Chinese people discovered gunpowder. Did you know that the first possible recipe for gunpowder came in 808 CE? The recipe found in a Chinese text speaks about the combination of Carbon, Sulfur, and Saltpeter. [Source: Thomas F. Glick, Steven John Livesey, Faith Wallis, Dioxide, Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine: An Encyclopedia., 2005, p211, Routelidge]
Sulfur Facts: 16-20 | History
16. Ever heard of ‘Greek Fire’? It was a flamethrower kind of weapon that was used in warfare. Greek Fire was widely used by the Byzantine Empire. It is believed that Sulfur was a component used to make Greek Fire [Sources: Charles Stephenson, The Admiral’s Secret Weapon: Lord Dundonald and the Origins of Chemical Warfare., p93, Boydell Press. & Eric Croddy, Chemical and Biological Warfare., p128, Copernicus Books]
17. It was because of Antoine Lavoisier that Sulfur received recognition as a chemical element. In 1789, Lavoisier included Sulfur in his list of elements.
18. The allotropy of Sulfur was discovered in 1823 by Eilhard Mitscherlich – a German chemist.
19. Eilhard saw that when he cooled molten Sulfur, a specific type of crystal shape was formed.
20. Eilhard later saw that when Sulfur crystallized from a solution, the shape of the crystals was different from what he saw after cooling molten Sulfur.
Sulfur Facts: 21-25 | History
21. Sulfur that we get from molten Sulfur is known by the name ‘Monoclinic Sulfur’. Sulfur that we get through crystallization of a solution is known as ‘Rhombic Sulfur’.
22. Both Monoclinic Sulfur and Rhombic Sulfur are known for containing S8 rings. However, it is the arrangement pattern of these rings that make them different.
23. When Eilhard found Sulfur’s allotropy (that is, the same element having different structural forms), allotropy was not formally included in chemistry.
24. In 1841, the term allotropy was introduced by Berzelius. This was a deliberate introduction to explain Monoclinic Sulfur and Rhombic Sulfur – the two different forms of Sulfur.
25. Weird but true, by 1800s, one of the best ways to gauge a nation’s wealth was Sulfur in form of Sulfuric Acid. There are records of nations fighting wars over Sulfur. You don’t believe us, do you? How about believing Justus Liebig – a renowned German chemist who mentioned in 1843 that:
“A country’s commercial prosperity may be fairly judged by its consumption of sulfuric acid and there is no exaggeration in it.”
Sulfur Facts: 26-30 | History
26. Liebig also said that the prices of glass, soap, bleached cotton, printed cotton etc. were dependent on the price of Sulfur.
27. He went on saying that Great Britain was the supplier of glass, soap, bleached cotton, printed cotton etc. to Spain, America, the East, and Portugal. In exchange, Britain would take indigo, raisins, wine, silk, and raw cotton, etc. from those countries and areas.
28. Liebig also said, “considering the trade between Great Britain and the above countries, it is easy to understand why the British Government went to war with Naples in 1839.
29. The sole purpose of the war was to destroy the Sulfur monopoly that Naples tried to establish!
[Source for #25 to #29: Justus Freiherr von Liebig, Familiar Letters on Chemistry., 1843]
30. Sulfur in its pure form was isolated in 1809. According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, pure Sulfur was created by Louis-Jacques Thénard and Louis-Josef Gay-Lussac – the two famous French chemists.
Sulfur Facts: 31-35 | Sulfur Fun Facts
31. Of the total mass of Earth, 3% comes from Sulfur. That’s not significant, right? No! Wrong! The amount of Sulfur on Earth is enough to make two celestial bodies (made completely of Sulfur) of the size of Moon!
32. When Sulfur burns, it does so with a blue flame. The color of the flame is very satisfying.
33. Sulfur in its pure form has absolutely no smell. However, there are several compounds of Sulfur that stink!
34. The stinky bombs that come out of the bottom (that we call farts) get that horrible smell from Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S). The odor is the result of bacteria living in our large intestine.
35. The famous antibiotic called Penicillin is a natural antibiotic. Guess what? It is Sulfur-based!
Sulfur Facts: 36-40 | Sulfur Fun Facts
36. The core of Earth has a higher proportion of Sulfur that the crust of the Earth. The core has 100 times more Sulfur than that crust.
37. Rotten eggs get also get their characteristic smell because of Hydrogen Sulfide.
38. There are certain bacteria that are found in some caves. These bacteria are known for digesting Hydrogen Sulfide. After digesting Hydrogen Sulfide, they produce what is known as snottites.
39. What are the snottites? Have you ever seen stalactites? Now imagine those stalactites as slimy structures. What you imagine is nothing but snottites. (If you fail to imagine, take a look at the image below).
40. These snottites are known for dripping Sulfuric Acid (H2SO4). The Sulfuric Acid has a very low pH (can be zero). This dripping Sulfuric Acid, if falls on your clothes, will burn a hole through them.
Sulfur Facts: 41-45 | Sulfur Fun Facts
41. Snottite bacteria are found in those caves where there are Sulfur-containing hydrocarbons or minerals or Sulfur deposits.
42. The Sulfuric Acid produced by the snottite bacteria is responsible for creating underground caves. This happens because the acid dissolves rocks.
43. For millennia, people have depended on Sulfur Dioxide for preserving wine. In case you didn’t know, even today, Sulfur Dioxide is an ingredient found in wines. We are not saying this. Practical Winery & Vineyard Journal says so.
44. Hot Springs! What comes to your mind? Relaxation, right? Well, hot springs may have a questionable smell but they are long known for medicinal benefits (supposed). These springs have dissolved Sulfur compounds that give them the bad smell.
45. Have you heard of Hot Sulphur Spring town in Colorado? The town came into existence in the year 1860 after the Sulfur springs were discovered by White Settlers. Don’t think that White Settlers were the first ones to find the springs. Ute Indians who lived there happily relaxed in those springs for centuries.
Sulfur Facts: 46-50 | Sulfur or Sulphur?
46. You have seen us using two spellings for this element. Those two spellings are Sulfur and Sulphur. Which one is correct? The answer is – ‘both are correct’.
47. The term ‘Sulfur’ comes from ‘Sulpur’ – a Latin word. This Latin word was later Hellenized to create the word ‘Sulphur’.
48. Sulfur came into existence when the Classical Period (8th century BCE to 5th or 6th century CE – this period is known as Classical Antiquity or Classical Period) was nearing its end.
49. In the Anglo-French (also known as Anglo-Norman or Anglo-Norman French) language of 12th century, the spelling Sulfre was used.
50. Two centuries later, in the 14th century, -ph- was restored and the spelling became Sulphre. By 15th century, the full Latin spelling came to existence. So, Sulfur was spelled as Sulphur.
Sulfur Facts: 51-55 | Sulfur or Sulphur?
51. In Britain, until the 19th century, both Sulfur and Sulphur were used. Brits then went on to standardize the spelling to Sulphur.
52. The United States, on the other hand, went for the spelling Sulfur. Canada continued to use both the spellings.
53. IUPAC or International Union or Pure and Applied Chemistry stepped in and chose the spelling Sulfur in the year 1990.
54. In 1992, Royal Society of Chemistry’s Nomenclature Committee also adopted the spelling Sulfur.
55. No wonder, British journals such as the Nature Chemistry today use the ‘f’ version of the spelling instead of ‘ph’ version. However, even if you are using ‘ph’ version, you are still referring to the same element but consider using the ‘f’ version.
Sulfur Facts: 56-60 | Sulfur Properties
56. Sulfur in its elemental form is considered to be of low toxicity. However, there are several compounds of Sulfur which are highly toxic.
57. Some of the toxic compounds of Sulfur include Hydrogen Sulfide, Carbon Disulfide, Sulfur Dioxide, etc.
58. Hydrogen Sulfide has such a horrible smell that you can literally smell it even at the concentrations of 0.03 parts per million (ppm). At that concentration, if you are breathing in H2S for 8 hours, it is safe.
59. At the concentration of 4 ppm exposure to H2S for 8 hours will lead to eye irritation.
60. If the concentration is increased to 20 ppm, just 1 minute of exposure will lead to severe injuries to eye nerves.
Sulfur Facts: 61-65 | Sulfur Properties
61. If the concentration of Hydrogen Sulfide is increased to 700 parts per million, a person’s breathing will stop and death can come swiftly if immediate medical rescue is not provided.
62. Even if medical assistance is provided quickly upon exposure to H2S at 700 ppm concentration and a person is rescued, chances of permanent brain damage are high.
63. Elemental Sulfur has no odor. It is completely odorless with a pale-yellow color. It is a soft solid and it is quite brittle.
64. You cannot dissolve Sulfur in water. It is however soluble in Carbon Disulfide.
65. Sulfur can be burnt in presence of air. The resulting reaction leads to oxidation of Sulfur into Sulfur Dioxide. When Sulfur burns, it produces a magnificent blue flame. When burnt, Sulfur melts into a liquid with blood-red color.
Sulfur Facts: 66-70 | Sulfur Properties
66. Sulfur has different allotropes. These allotropes are present in both amorphous and crystalline forms. More than 30 solid allotropes are formed by Sulfur – more than any other known element.
67. One of the allotropes of Sulfur is known as cyclo-S8 or cyclo-octasulfur. This particular allotrope occurs in various crystalline forms (which are referred to as polymorphs). These crystalline forms are represented by α (alpha), β (beta), and γ (gamma) – the Greek letters.
68. Of these various crystalline forms of cyclo-octasulfur, the commonest and most widely occurring form is the α form which is known as α-Sulfur or Orthorhombic α-Sulfur. The α-Sulfur has a ‘crown’ or ‘puckered ring’ structure.
69. Sulfur commonly occurs as S8 ring, that is, the ring has 8 atoms. However, there are several other rings known. Those rings are S6, S7, S9, S10, S11, S12, S13, S14, S15, S18, and S20. These rings have 6 atoms, 7 atoms, 9 atoms, 10 atoms, 11 atoms, 12 atoms, 13 atoms, 14 atoms, 15 atoms, 18 atoms, and 20 atoms respectively.
70. Sulfur is known for reacting with almost all elements. The elements with which it cannot react are:
Sulfur Facts: 71-75 | Natural Occurrence of Sulfur
71. Outside of Earth, Sulfur is produced in massive stars. In those stars, Sulfur is produced only in areas where the temperature exceeds 2.5 x 109 Kelvin.
73. In the whole of the universe, Sulfur is the 10th most abundant element.
74. Sulfur can be found in many meteorites in form of Sulfide. In non-metallic rocky meteorites known as chondrites, Sulfur content can be 2.1%. For carbonaceous chondrites, Sulfur content can be as high as 6.6%.
75. Sulfur found in meteorites is usually found in form of FeS or Troilite (iron sulfide mineral). However, in some carbonaceous chondrites, Sulfur can exist as Sulfates, free Sulfur or as Sulfur compounds.
Sulfur Facts: 76-80 | Natural Occurrence of Sulfur
77. On Earth, you can find elemental Sulfur near hot springs as well as in volcanic regions in various parts of our world. The Pacific Ring of Fire is one of the volcanic areas where you can find huge deposits of elemental Sulfur.
Did you know, during the Industrial Revolution, Sicily was the major source of Sulfur?
79. The volcanic deposits of Sulfur are usually Polycrystalline. To date, the largest ever Sulfur crystal to be mined was of the size 22 x 16 x 11 cm.
80. Anaerobic bacteria are known for synthesizing native Sulfur. These bacteria do that by acting on various Sulfate minerals (for example, Gypsum) found in salt domes.
Sulfur Facts: 81-85 | Sulfur Uses
81. The primary commercial use of Sulfur is that of the production of H2So4 (Sulfuric Acid). Did you know that nearly 90% of the mined Sulfur is used in the production of Sulfuric Acid?
82. Did you know, in this industrialized world that we live in, Sulfuric Acid takes the number one spot in terms of bulk chemical produced?
83. Sulfuric Acid is primarily used for phosphate ores’ extraction. Phosphate ores are used for manufacturing fertilizers.
84. Sulfur itself is also a component of fertilizers. It is present in fertilizers in form of Calcium Sulfate. The reason why elemental Sulfur is not used in fertilizers is that it cannot dissolve in water and hence, plants cannot use it directly.
85. Bacteria found in soil is capable of converting the soluble derivatives of Sulfur that can then be used by plants. Calcium Sulfate is soluble in water, and hence, it is used in fertilizers.
Sulfur Facts: 86-90 | Sulfur Uses
86. Did you know that Sulfur is responsible for improving the efficiency of other nutrients that plants need? For instance, it improves the efficiency of Phosphorus and Nitrogen.
87. Sulfur particles that are produced biologically are hydrophilic (they can easily dissolve in water) because they have a biopolymer coating.
88. For plants, Sulfur is either as important as Phosphorus or more important. It is a vital nutrient for plants as it is needed for legumes’ root nodule formation, plant growth, and plant defense system and immunity.
89. Organosulfur compounds find important use in agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, and dyestuffs. Antibacterial Sulfanomides were among the earliest known drugs that contained Sulfur.
90. A class of antibiotics known as β-lactam antibiotics contain Sulfur. Some of the famous antibiotics in this class include Penicillins (like Penicillin V, Penicillin G, etc.), Monolactams, Cephalosporins etc.
Sulfur Facts: 91-95 | Sulfur Uses
91. Have you heard of Epsom Salt? It is Magnesium Sulfate. In hydrated crystal forms, Epsom Salts can be used as a bath additive, laxative, exfoliant etc.
92. Sulfur in its elemental form is one of the oldest known pesticides and fungicides. Elemental Sulfur is powered to form Dusting Sulfur. This Dusting Sulfur is used as a fungicide for strawberry, grapes, many veggies, and various crops.
93. When it comes to organic farming, Sulfur is by far the most important fungicide. For instance, for apples that are organically farmed in colder regions are prone to a disease known as apple scab. The only fungicide that can be used is Sulfur.
94. In the human body, Sulfur is the 8th most abundant element. In a person weighing 70 kilograms, his or her body will contain 140 grams of Sulfur.
95. The two amino acids (found both in animals and plants) known as methionine and cysteine are the ones that contain most of the Sulfur. Sulfur is present in every protein, enzyme, and polypeptide that contains these two amino acids.
This completes our list of Sulfur facts. In case you want to add a few more points, drop a message through the comments section. We will add the points with proper credit to the contributor.