in StemSocial2 months ago

Author: @madridbg, via Power Point 2010, using public domain images. WikiImages

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In this sense, the present publication aims to analyze the implications that exist about the group tendencies of the elements and their incidence in the formation of substances that will be used in the pyrotechnic and space combustion industry.


It is no secret that the organization of the elements in the periodic table depends on the atomic number of the element and its physical and chemical properties, which are directly related to the energy layers or levels present in the nucleus of the element in question.

In this sense, if we go to the periodic table and make an approach to the members of group 15 we can find that most of the propergols and explosives present considerable amounts of a fundamental element of this group, referring to nitrogen.

Fig. 2. Periodic table of the chemical elements. Author: Attribution: 2012rc

However, this group is not only constituted by the aforementioned element, we can also find Arsenic, Antimony, Phosphorus and Bismuth, which present metallic characteristics unlike Nitrogen and Phosphorus which are considered as non-metals, due to the characteristics and behaviors that these elements assume.

Now, although the elements mentioned above are in the same group, their properties differ among them and making a true classification of them becomes somewhat cumbersome, so we will only focus our attention on the behavior of nitrogen and its usefulness in the formation of propergols and explosives associated with the pyrotechnical industry and jet propulsion mechanisms used in spacecraft.


Chemically the element Nitrogen, only presents a type of allotrope, which is a colorless and odorless gas that occurs in the form of dinitrogen, it constitutes 78% of the atmosphere of this planet, it is also considered fundamental in the biogeochemical cycles of the same element.

We must also take into account the great usefulness it presents as an inert diluent, so that its presence is extremely relevant and important, since on the contrary, if it were not present, any spark or small fire would cause a major explosion at atmospheric level, since it is there, where different elements or highly reactive and flammable compounds converge and with only the presence of nitrogen gas as an inert gas makes possible the atmospheric stability and the development of life on this planet.

Fig. 3. Representation of explosives. Author: Pfc. Lukas J. Blom

Recall the incident that killed the astronauts aboard the Apollo space capsule, where a small electrical spark produced a huge explosion that killed all living species inside the capsule and this because the oxygen mixture used was totally pure, which makes oxygen a highly flammable compound, hence the ideal is to breathe a mixture of air consisting of different gases, specifically the presence of oxygen and nitrogen which is the component that makes oxygen inert in question.

Undoubtedly in terms of chemical properties, the solubility of nitrogen is not good when compared to water, although it improves with increasing temperature and pressure, an aspect that is crucial for all those people who in one way or another practice diving, because as divers dive, the dinitrogen present dissolves in the bloodstream and when they return to the surface that variation in pressure causes the dinitrogen to be released in the form of small bubbles and become trapped around the joints, thus generating the diver's illness or simply a process of decompression at the level of the metabolic system.

So it is necessary to understand that nitrogen chemistry is complex and undoubtedly one of the great utilities of this element and the compounds it forms is associated with the management of inert atmospheres, especially in places that serve as storage of chemical reagents, this utility allows around 60 million tons of dinitrogen to be used annually worldwide.

Therefore, when a combustion process is presented to a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen results in the formation of nitrogen dioxide which represents a basic mechanism that runs at the level of lightning, which is a significant way to maintain the biologically necessary proportions of nitrogen to maintain the balance in our biosphere, hence the importance of knowing the chemistry of this valuable element.


When talking about propergols and explosives, we must assume that both work according to a highly exothermic reaction that generates the production of a large volume of substance, which is the one that will generate the corresponding impulse to move the object where it is stored, so that both substances have specific properties in common.

In this sense, propergols are considered as a mixture of substances that develop in a closed reactor, the expulsion of gases will be responsible for the impulse of materials or instruments such as rockets, an aspect that is based on Newton's third law.

Fig. 3. Hypergolic fuel chambers. Author: NASA

Therefore, both propergols and explosives must comply with three factors that make the compound in question work, among which the following stand out:

1. It is based on a reaction that must be thermodynamically spontaneous, highly exothermic, so that a large amount of energy must be released during the process.

2. The reaction to be executed must be extremely fast, so it must comply with the principle of a kinetically favorable reaction.

3. The reaction that is executed must result in the formation of small gaseous molecules, since they will acquire greater speed as a result of the greater force of collisions that are generated between them and therefore the impulse or movement will be much greater.

Now, what do these parameters have to do with nitrogen or with the formation of explosives or propergols? To understand and answer this question, we must know that the presence of the element nitrogen is a determining factor, since the corresponding reactions result in the formation of nitrogen, which is joined through simple bonds in an exothermic reaction and produces dinitrogen molecules.

The latter substance is the one that will provide the greatest amount of energy in the reaction, as a result of breaking the triple bonds that hold together the nitrogen atoms within the dinitrogen molecule. Therefore, it is to be expected that beyond the reaction at the reactant level, it is the decomposition of the final product that completes the reaction so that it is kinetically favorable and we can fulfill the desired impulse of the propergols or explosives generated.


Undoubtedly the chemistry of a propergol or explosives is specific and complex, where different variables must be managed to make it possible to design and follow the process of both reagents and products, therefore knowing the usefulness of nitrogen, specifically the compound dinitrogen, allows us to understand how biological and atmospheric systems maintain the balance in our environment.

Once again, we realize that through chemistry in a contextualized way we can acquire substantial learning that allows us to understand how things really work.


[1] Chang, R. (2010). Química. Decima edicion. McGraw-hill Interamericana editores. ISBN: 978-607-15-0307-7.

[2] McMURRY E., John y Fay C., Robert. (2008). General Chemistry. Fifth edition PEARSON EDUCACIÓN, Mexico, 2009 ISBN: 978-970-26 1286-5.

[3] Ralph, H. Petrucci, William S. Harwood, E. Geoffrey Herring. (2003). GENERAL CHEMISTRY. Eighth edition. PEARSON EDUCACIÓN. S.A., Madrid.



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and what about the trinitrotoluene ?

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