What is Sulfur? - Definition, Facts & Uses

What is Sulfur? - Definition, Facts & Uses
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  • 0:04 Getting to Know Sulfur
  • 1:10 Other Facts About Sulfur
  • 2:22 Is Sulfur Useful?
  • 3:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Marauo Davis

Marauo has taught both chemistry and mathematics in the high school and college setting and has a Ph.D. degree in chemistry.

Have you ever gotten a whiff of a bad, rotten egg odor and been told it was 'sulfuric?' Well, there's a lot more to sulfur than some smelly compounds. Read on to learn more about this element, including its definition, uses and applications.

Getting to Know Sulfur

Sulfur is a relatively old element that has been on mankind's radar for thousands of years. It was referenced in ancient literature, such as Homer's Odyssey, and was even mentioned in the Bible. In fact, during ancient times, sulfur and carbon were the only nonmetals known to man. Recently, sulfur has been noted as a key element on the planet of Venus and in its atmosphere. So, how can sulfur truly be 'defined?'

Some might define sulfur as the second member of the oxygen family. Sulfur has six valence electrons and enjoys having a two minus formal charge. Sulfur appears yellow in color, and because it is a member of Group 6, sulfur serves as a relatively good oxidizing agent. On the periodic table, sulfur is characterized simply by the letter S as its elemental abbreviation.

All of this provides a good description of what sulfur is; however, to truly define the element, we might turn to a more traditional dictionary definition. There, sulfur can be defined as 'a nonmetallic that exists in several forms, which burns with a blue flame and suffocating odor.'

Other Facts about Sulfur

As previously mentioned, sulfur is a member of the oxygen family (Group 6). Because of its classification in this group, sulfur, in many ways, behaves like oxygen. Those elements of a particular group will often behave the same -- this is the reason that groups are often referred to as a 'family.' Just as human families often share characteristics (like eye color, hair color, ear size and even personality traits), elements in the same family also share traits.

Sulfur contains the same number of valence electrons, or electrons involved in bonding, as oxygen. A major difference, however, is the size of sulfur as compared to oxygen. Since sulfur sits below oxygen on the periodic table, it is slightly larger, and for that reason it can perform much of the same reactions that oxygen performs.

Sulfur's atomic number and mass number are twice that of oxygen -- 16 and 32, respectively. Sulfur likes to form double bonds and stabilizes its formal charge quite easily. Sulfur can be found in the earth either in a pure form or as sulfides and other sulfate minerals. Sulfur can be found both by itself and bonded to other elements and then separated from organic and inorganic compounds.

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