Meaning of Non-metals

What are non-metals:

Non-metals are the chemical elements present on the right side of the periodic table (except hydrogen), characterized by being poor conductors of heat and electricity.

Non-metal elements include hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), carbon (C), sulfur (S), phosphorus (P), selenium Se, noble gases, and halogens. These last two groups have their own characteristics.

Physical and chemical properties of non-metals

In the vast majority of cases, non-metal elements have common characteristics:

  • They do not corrode.
  • Most are very fragile. They break easily.
  • At room temperature they can be liquid, solid or gaseous.
  • In general, their melting points are lower than those of metal elements.
  • They lack shine as they do not reflect light.
  • They are found in the earth’s crust and in the atmosphere.
  • The outer shells (valence shells) have four or more electrons. These electrons, being found in the highest energy shell of the atom, are responsible for the interaction between atoms.
  • They lack malleability and ductility.
  • When ionized, they acquire a negative charge.
  • When they combine with oxygen, they form non-metal oxides, also called anhydrides.
  • In nature they are found forming diatomic molecules, for example oxygen (O₂), nitrogen (N₂) and hydrogen (H₂).

non-metal elements important for life

These non-metal elements are key in the organic processes that gave rise to life on Earth.

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Oxygen (O)

It is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas, essential for the formation of life and for the execution of biological processes related to obtaining energy.

Hydrogen (H)

It is an odorless, colorless gas that is soluble in water. In fact, its high solubility makes it an indispensable element in the metallurgical industry, where it is used to decompose metal elements. It is the most abundant chemical element in the universe, in fact it is part of 75% of all visible matter.

Selenium (Se)

It is a vital micronutrient for most forms of life. It has the quality of increasing its electrical conductivity when exposed to light and is only soluble in ether and carbon disulfide.

Carbon (C)

On its own, carbon is an essential nonmetal for life. Organic compounds and organic chemistry are based on structures made up primarily of carbon. Carbon has the peculiarity that it can combine with four different elements at the same time and thus form single, double or triple bonds. With oxygen it can form carbon dioxide, which is the precursor molecule for organic compounds in photosynthesis.

Nitrogen (N)

It is a gas that constitutes almost 80% of the air, hence its relevance. In addition, it is part of other organic compounds, such as nitrogen oxide (N₂O), nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂), among others. In the industrial world, nitrogen is used to obtain ammonia, which is the basis for making fertilizers and nitric oxide.

phosphorus (P)

It is present in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), responsible for the genetic instructions of all living beings, and ribonucleic acid (RNA), responsible for protein synthesis. It is an essential element for the transport and storage of energy in cells.

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See also Characteristics of metals.