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SODIUM

DOI: 10.1615/AtoZ.s.sodium

Sodium —(English, soda; Medieval Latin, sodanum, headache remedy), Na (L. natrium); atomic weight 22.9898; atomic number 11; melting point 97.81 ± 0.03°C; boiling point 882.9°C; specific gravity 0.971 (20°C); valence 1.

Long recognized in compounds, sodium was first isolated by Davy in 1807 by electrolysis of caustic soda. Sodium is present in fair abundance in the sun and stars. The D lines of sodium are among the most prominent in the solar spectrum. Sodium is the sixth most abundant element on earth, comprising about 2.6% of the earth's crust; it is the most abundant of the alkali group of metals of which it is a member. The most common compound is sodium chloride, but it occurs in many other minerals, such as soda niter, cryolite, amphibole, zeolite, sodalite, etc. It is a very reactive element and is never found free in nature. It is now obtained commercially by the electrolysis of absolutely dry fused sodium chloride. This method is much cheaper than that of electrolyzing sodium hydroxide, as was used several years ago. Sodium is a soft, bright, silvery metal, which floats on water, decomposing it with the evolution of hydrogen and the formation of the hydroxide. It may or may not ignite spontaneously on water, depending on the amount of oxide and metal exposed to the water. It normally does not ignite in air at temperatures below 115°C.

Metallic sodium is vital in the manufacture of sodamide and sodium cyanide, sodium peroxide, and sodium hydride. It is used in preparing tetraethyl lead, in the reduction of organic esters, and in the preparation of organic compounds. The metal may be used to improve the structure of certain alloys, to descale metal, to purify molten metals, and as a heat transfer agent. An alloy of sodium with potassium, NaK, is also an important heat transfer agent. Sodium compounds are important to the paper, glass, soap, textile, petroleum, chemical, and metal industries. Soap is generally a sodium salt of certain fatty acids. The importance of common salt to animal nutrition has been recognized since prehistoric times. Among the many compounds that are of the greatest industrial importance are common salt (NaCl), soda ash (Na2CO3), baking soda (NaHCO3), caustic soda (NaOH), Chile saltpeter (NaNO3), di- and tri-sodium phosphates, sodium thiosulfate (hypo, Na2S2O3 · 5H2O), and borax (Na2B4O7 · 10H2O). Seven isotopes of sodium are recognized.

Sodium metal should be handled with great care. It should be maintained in an inert atmosphere and contact with water and other substances with which sodium reacts should be avoided.

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