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Nitrite: Definition, Structure & Formula

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  • 0:04 Definition of Nitrate
  • 2:33 Structure and Formula…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Did you know that nitrates from sources such as fertilizers can enter our body and convert to nitrites? Discover what nitrite is, including its structure and formula.

Definition of Nitrite

Converted from nitrate to nitrite in our body and found in our drinking water as a result of sewage runoff, sources of nitrite are well known. Nitrite is an ion that is composed of a nitrogen atom bound to two oxygen atoms. Specifically, nitrite is classified as an anion. An ion is a molecule that is positively or negatively charged, and an anion is a type of ion that carries a negative charge. The molecular weight of nitrite is 46.01g/mol.

One interesting property of nitrite is its ability to be an ambidentate ligand. I know, an ambid-what? Ambidentate ligand refers to a molecule that is able to bind to a metal in two different ways. Think of the term ambidextrous, where people can write two different ways, either with their left hand or right hand. This similar concept applies to nitrite's ability to be an ambidentate ligand, binding to metal either one way or the other.

But how can nitrite bind in two different ways? This is due to the resonance form of nitrite. Don't be alarmed by the term resonance. This simply means that the structure of a compound can exist in a different way, while its chemical connectivity remains the same.

Nitrite plays a role in a variety of chemical reactions, such as the making of nitrite salts and oxidation-reduction reactions. One of these reactions is the formation of a weak acid called nitrous acid. This occurs through a process called protonation. Protonation is a reaction where a proton (H) is added to an atom, molecule or ion. Thus, when a proton (H) is added to nitrite, the resulting product is a compound called nitrous acid.

As noted, nitrite can be used in chemical reactions to make nitrite salts. One such salt that's useful to the food industry is sodium nitrite. Does this name sound familiar? It actually might if you think of your favorite cured deli meat. Sodium nitrite, a derivative from the nitrite ion, is widely used in the food industry to cure meat because it prevents nasty bacterial growth. Thus it ensures we enjoy an awesome sandwich minus the risks of awful side effects such as food poisoning and other illnesses.

Structure and Formula of Nitrate

The chemical formula of nitrite is NO2-. In its structure, both of the nitrogen-oxygen bonds are equal in length (when compared to each other). Now why does the chemical formula of nitrite have a negative charge? This has to do with the distribution of electrons around one of the oxygen atoms in the structure of nitrite. Use the Lewis structure of nitrite shown here as a guide while we discuss the purpose of this negative charge.

Steps Used When Drawing the Lewis Structure of Nitrite Ion
nitrite

Covalent bonding is used to form the double bond and single bond between the oxygen atoms and central nitrogen atom. A covalent bond is a chemical bond formed from the sharing of electrons between two atoms. In the case of our friend nitrite, there is a lonely electron from an external source that is willing to participate in this bonding. By participating, it causes an oxygen atom to change from having a total of 7 electron lone pairs (indicated by the dots surrounding oxygen) to eight (a).

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