Organic & Inorganic Azides: Definition, Reactions & Uses

Instructor: Korry Barnes

Korry has a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and teaches college chemistry courses.

In this lesson, we will be learning about both organic and inorganic azides by discussing their definition, what unique reactions they can be utilized for, and finally, some of the important applications they find use in.

A Small Molecule with a Big Job

Have you ever been in a car accident before? Obviously, we hope that never happens but when it does we depend on something called an airbag to deploy to help keep our bodies safe and often times to keep ourselves from violently hitting the steering wheel or dashboard. Airbags have come a long way since their introduction and today, most cars are actually equipped with multiple kinds at various locations within the vehicle.

Have you ever stopped to wonder how an airbag actually works? In our lesson for today, we are going to be studying compounds called organic and inorganic azides, which are compounds that contain multiple nitrogen atoms. We will be learning about them by looking at their definition, some important reactions they undergo, and finally how they can be used in practical applications. Let's get started!

Organic Azides

Let's start off our discussion by looking at azides that are classified as organic by nature. An organic azide is a compound that is primarily composed of carbon and hydrogen atoms that contain the azide functional group, which is composed of three nitrogen atoms bonded together in a linear fashion. A lot of times organic azides are represented in general terms by using the notation R-N=N=N where the 'R' group here simply represents any carbon-based group or side chain. Notice how the three nitrogen atoms are connected to one another linearly as we previously mentioned.


General structure of an organic azide
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Notice in the structure of the azide that the middle nitrogen atom has a formal positive charge and the very last nitrogen atom has a formal negative charge. This charge distribution comes into play when chemists use the azide functional group in chemical reactions.

Reactions of Organic Azides: Synthesis

How can organic azides be synthesized in the lab by chemists? One way that an azide can be prepared is to react what's called an acyl chloride with sodium azide (the source of the azide functional group) to give a product that's called an acyl azide. This kind of reaction is especially useful if a chemist needs to make other types of compounds that contain carbon-oxygen double bonds and nitrogen atoms.


When an acyl chloride is reacted with sodium azide a compound called an acyl azide is the product
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Uses of Organic Azides

By far, the most common use of organic azides is for the purposes of synthesis. The azide group is an especially useful source of nitrogen atoms, which themselves find a wide range of application in the fields of pharmaceuticals, materials, and polymers. Organic azides are frequently utilized as building blocks for more complex compounds that chemists may desire to synthesize.

Inorganic Azides

Inorganic azides are different from their organic counterparts in the sense that they aren't carbon-hydrogen based compounds at all. Rather, inorganic azides contain at least one metal atom of some sort. The most common example of an inorganic azide is called sodium azide, which contains the azide group bonded to a sodium metal atom.


Sodium azide is the prototypical inorganic azide
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Because of the fact that we are dealing with sodium (a metal) and nitrogen (a nonmetal) sodium azide is classified as an ionic compound, which is any compound that contains at least one metal and at least one nonmetal.

Reactions of Inorganic Azides: Synthesis

Let's talk briefly about how sodium azide is synthesized as our model reaction for inorganic azides. Sodium azide is most commonly made via a two-step process that involves:

1. Sodium reacts with ammonia to produce sodium amide and also hydrogen gas as a by-product.

2. Sodium amide that was formed is reacted with nitrous oxide to give sodium azide, with sodium hydroxide and ammonia produces as by-products.

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