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Nitrous oxide

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Nitrous oxide
Nitrous Oxide 1.png Nitrous oxide lewis.png
Systematic name Oxidonitrogen
Other names Nitrogen monoxide

Nitrogen(II) oxide

Molecular formula N2O
Molar mass Molar mass::44.013 g/mol

colorless liquified gas
with characteristic odor

CAS number CAS number::10024-97-2
Density and phase Density::1.977 g/L, gas
Solubility in water 1.5 g/100 ml (15°C)
Other solvents alcohol, ether, sulfuric acid
Melting point Melting point::−90.86 °C
Boiling point Boiling point::−88.48 °C
Molecular shape linear
Dipole moment 0.166 D
MSDS Material safety data sheet
Main hazards gives off toxic fumes in a fire
enhances combustion of other substances
on contact with liquid: frostbite
NFPA 704

NFPA 704 svg.png

Flash point Nonflammable
R/S statement R: R8, R20, R21, R36
S: S9, S20, S21, S24, S25, S26, S37, S43
RTECS number QX1350000
Related compounds
Related nitrogen oxides Nitric oxide
Dinitrogen trioxide
Nitrogen dioxide
Dinitrogen tetroxide
Dinitrogen pentoxide
Related compounds Ammonium nitrate, Azide
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for
materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Disclaimer and references

Nitrous oxide is a chemical compound identified by the molecular formula (N2O). It is also commonly known as "laughing gas" and best known by its use by dentists. Its euphoric effects contribute to its anesthetic properties. It is a chemical compound that was first discovered in 1793 by Joseph Priestley; it reacts significantly with heat and flammable anesthetics. Human activities enhance its occurrence. Rockets and car engines utilize Nitrous oxide as an oxidizer to increase the power of the engine.


A Nitrous oxide tank used in England decades ago.

Nitrous oxide is a condensable gas that is colorless, possesses a slightly sweet odor/taste, and has a low molecular mass of 44.0128 grams per mole. This non-polar compound contains two atoms of nitrogen and one atom of oxygen, creating a linear molecular shape. At room temperature, Nitrous oxide is a stable gas with a density of 1.997 grams per Liter, 1.5 times the density of air.[1]

This compound is made by heating up Ammonium nitrate, which decomposes into Nitrous oxide and water vapor.[2] It's normally stored in tanks under tremendous pressure, which condenses the gas into a liquid. When released from the tank, the liquid immediately vaporizes.[3]

N2O is soluble in water at 28 degrees Celsius and can be soluble in alcohol, ether, and sulfuric acid as well. Blood in the human body also acts as a solvent, but only slightly. It mainly affects the body’s metabolism towards vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 symptom deficiencies include myelopathy, encephalopathy, and sensory neuropathy from several days of exposure to the nitrous oxide anesthesia. Body cavities such as the anal passage, ears, nose, and mouth will release nitrous oxide. The compound is one of the least potent compounds, boiling at -127.26 degrees Fahrenheit (or -88.48 degrees Celsius) and melting at -131.55 degrees Fahrenheit (or -90.88 degrees Celsius). It fails to react with the halogen family[4] and is nonflammable. However, it supports combustion when in contact with a flammable anesthetics. High temperatures show effect on the compound, especially by explosive decomposition.[5]

Synthesis / Occurrences

Nitrous oxide takes a part in the earth's natural Nitrogen cycle.

Nitrous oxide is a popularly known greenhouse gas and is considered part of the earth’s Nitrogen cycle, the natural circulation of nitrogen. Approximately 40% of its natural production occurs through human activities such as agriculture and industry. [6]

Farmers use synthetic fertilizers that contain nitrogen. When farmers utilize fertilizers, nitrogen is added to the soil. The nitrogen in the soil management reacts with the naturally occurring oxygen to release atmospheric Nitrous oxide. The levels of Nitrous oxide increase as the heat increases. [7] Nitrogen can also be found in the manure and urine of livestock. [6]

In our every day lives, we release nitrous oxide through transportation. The emissions primarily contain N2O, releasing it into the air as transportation fuel burns in cars and trucks. [6]

Nitrous oxide occurs naturally in situations relating to the Nitrogen cycle. It occurs in oceans and soil because bacteria among the plants break down the nitrogen. Marine coastal sediments and groundwater are common areas to find Nitrous oxide. [6]


An old English cartoon portraying the use of Nitrous oxide. It calmed down nerves. This cartoon portrays men using the gas on their wives.

Nitrous oxide is commonly known as the “laughing gas.” It acts as an anesthesia to induce the pain one experiences during medical procedures. It increases a patient’s reaction threshold and decreases anxiety, all while they remain conscious. Patient cooperation is ensured and longer appointments can be made for doctors/dentists while performing medical performances. A patient typically uses a mask to inhale the gas from tanks (their storage).[2]

Although mostly utilized as an anesthetic, Nitrous oxide can also be used as a food additive, specifically in aerosol spray repellants, such as whipped cream and cooking spray cans. Rocket motors also use it as an oxidizer.[8]


Joseph Priestly discovered Nitrous oxide in 1793.

In 1793, Englishman Joseph Priestley discovered Nitrous oxide, the laughing gas, by proving oxygen and nitrogen existed in the air.[9] When Priestley died in 1804, Humphrey Davy, the apprentice of a pharmacist, took over and speculated that the gas could be used to relieve pain during surgical procedures. However, his theory was not proven until later. Nitrous oxide gas was used for fun at town fairs before being used for medicinal purposes. People would have a more enjoyable time and easily laugh while inhaling the gas, hence the name "laughing gas". It wasn’t used for medicinal purposes until 1844 when Horace Wells, a dentist, used it on himself to take out of one his teeth. [8]


Nitrous Oxide: The Laughing Gas


  1. Bezzant, John L. Nitrous Oxide Definition The University of Utah. Web. Accessed 13 January 2015.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Unknown. About Nitrous Oxide SS Gas Lab Asia. Web. Accessed 13 January 2015.
  3. Unknown. nitrous oxide Pubchem. Web. Accessed 13 January 2015.
  4. Unknown. Chemical/Physical Properties of Nitrous Oxide dent-ed-online. Web. Accessed 13 January 2015.
  5. Mattson, Bruce. Experiments with Nitrous Oxide Department of Chemistry, Creighton University. Web. Last updated 24 January 2002.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Unknown. Overview of Greenhouse Gases EPA. Web. Last updated 17 April 2014.
  7. Dowdell, RJ. FIELD STUDIES OF THE SOIL ATMOSPHERE II. OCCURRENCE OF NITROUS OXIDE Journal of Soil Science. Web. Date of Publication 28 July 2006.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Unknown. Nitrous oxide history Air Liquide. Web. Accessed 13 January 2015.
  9. Unknown. About Nitrous Oxide SS Gas Lab Asia. Web. Accessed 13 January 2015.