What is Ammonia? - Formula & Sulfate

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  • 0:00 What Is Ammonia?
  • 0:53 Molecular Structure
  • 1:44 Important Reactions
  • 3:23 Ammonium Sulfate
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nathan Crawford

Nathan, a PhD chemist, has taught chemistry and physical science courses.

This lesson describes the molecular compound ammonia. Common sources of ammonia and the chemical bonding, simple reactions, and uses of one particular compound, ammonium sulfate, are included in the discussion.

What Is Ammonia?

Have you ever walked into a room and been struck by the pungent smell of ammonia cleaners? Have you ever walked along a beach and been struck with ammonia odors arising from decomposing fish? These experiences were, no doubt, nasal-clearing events!

Ammonia is a simple molecule, three hydrogen atoms bonded to a central nitrogen atom, that originates from natural sources as well as industrial synthesis. The natural sources of ammonia, for the most part, come from biological origins. The decomposition of dead organisms, such as fish or shellfish, as well as urine from organisms, all produce compounds that can decompose into ammonia. On an industrial scale, ammonia is largely produced through a reaction known as the Haber process, and millions of tons of ammonia are produced synthetically in this way every year.

Molecular Structure

The structure and geometry of the ammonia molecule arise from the bonds between the outermost, or valence, electrons of the nitrogen and hydrogen atoms. The bonds between the three hydrogen atoms and central nitrogen atom are covalent bonds that are characterized by the sharing of valence electrons between atoms. The single, unpaired valence electron of each hydrogen is shared with one of the three unpaired valence electrons of nitrogen.

You might think that nitrogen might possess a flat, or planar geometry, but the nitrogen atom possesses a pair of electrons that are not bonded to another atom. These paired electrons, called lone pair electrons, repel the electrons within the covalent bonds, pushing them out of a planar geometry. The resulting pyramid shape gives an example of what is known as a trigonal pyramidal geometry.

Important Reactions

The lone pair of electrons on the nitrogen atom in ammonia means that the molecule is an excellent base, or a compound that readily accepts a hydrogen from an acid. Reactions typically occur with ammonia dissolved in water, also known as an aqueous ammonia solution. If the ammonia solution is added to an acid solution, such as hydrochloric acid, a single hydrogen atom from the acid is transferred as a hydrogen ion, or proton, to the lone pair of a nitrogen atom of a waiting ammonia molecule. The result of this proton transfer is the formation of a fourth covalent bond and the creation of a positively charged ammonium ion, NH sub 4^+.

The ammonium ion is then able to form an ionic bond, or a bond that is formed through attraction between positively charged cations with negatively charged anions, with the negatively charged chloride ion, Cl. The product of this reaction, ammonium chloride, gives an excellent example of ionic compounds that result from the reaction of ammonia with acids, the ammonium salts

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