Oxygen is a vital component of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the atmosphere that protects us from being annihilated by the sun. Oxygen plays a vital role in almost all natural functions in humans, animals, and plant life. Oxygen is maintained on our planet through the oxygen cycle, which recycles gases and uses photosynthesis (through the exposure of plants to sunlight) to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Discovered and studied in the 1770s by Scheele, Priestley, and Lavoisier, oxygen was first named by Lavoisier in 1777. Oxygen has a chemical symbol O and the atomic number 8. A highly reactive element, it readily bonds with other elements, forming compounds called oxides. For example, in water, there are two hydrogen molecules compounded with one oxygen molecule (H20).
Most people do not realize that the air we breathe is only 21% oxygen. Nitrogen makes up about 78% of the air and other gases make up the remaining parts. Oxygen is the third most common element on Earth, making up 47% of the Earth’s crust and 65% of our bodies. The ozone layer, which keeps the harmful rays of the sun to a minimum and helps prevent the loss of our breathable air, is made of up of a compound made up of three oxygen atoms.
Oxygen is needed for many chemical reactions but is a deterrent to other processes. For example, oxygen is necessary to fuel fire, with increased oxygen strengthening the flames and multiplying their force and intensity. But an oxygen-free environment is required for the development of certain growths such as botulism.
Oxygen serves many useful purposes. For example, oxygen is often used in water treatment. It is used as an oxidizer for rocket fuel. Oxygen is required for smelting metal from ore. And many other scientific, chemical, and industrial functions use oxygen. But most of all, oxygen sustains life. It is used in medical treatments for various conditions from helping a newborn infant breathe to assisting those who have heart and lung conditions to live a longer and fuller life.