13. Sulphur (ISBN 1-
Contents: Introduction; Properties of sulphur; The origin of sulphur; Crystals of sulphur; Minerals containing sulphur; Reactivity of sulphur; Extracting sulphur; Sulphur dioxide; Sulphur dioxide as a bleaching agent; Sulphur dioxide and the environment; Hydrogen sulphide; Sulphuric acid; Sulphates and sulphites; Copper sulphate; Reactions with copper sulphate; Vulcanising rubber; Sulphur in warfare; Sulphur for life; Key facts about sulphur; The Periodic Table; Understanding equations; Glossary of technical terms; Index
Sulphur is a bright yellow, tasteless solid and a very reactive element. It is found in a wide range of minerals and is one of the products of a volcanic eruption. Perhaps this is why many people of previous centuries associated sulphur (also known as brimstone) with the unpleasant afterlife known as Hell. In the New Testament, Hell is described as a "lake that burns with fire and brimstone".
The pure element sulphur has always been
thought to have strange properties. A spinning ball of it was
used in one of the world's first demonstrations of
static electricity. It was found that when the ball was
touched by a hand, the ball began to glow.
The element sulphur is a non-metal and will not dissolve in water. The pure element sulphur has very little smell. The smell you might associate with sulphur bad eggs is actually a compound of sulphur, the gas known as hydrogen sulphide. Sulphur compounds are also responsible for the smell in garlic, mustard, onions and cabbage. A sulphur compound even gives skunks their ferociously powerful and long-lasting smell. Indeed, sulphur is a part of all living tissues. Sulphur is fixed into proteins in plants, and acquired by animals who eat the plant materials.
Despite all of the unfortunate connections, sulphur has long had a beneficial medicinal role. It was used both externally, in the form of ointments for the skin and vapours to fumigate diseased places, or internally as the medicine called brimstone. "Brimstone and treacle" was commonly used in Victorian times, and was made famous in the stories of Charles Dickens. In the modern world, the group of drugs known as sulphonamides are used as antimicrobials, one of the more important groups of medicines available today to cure infections of the digestive system.
Because sulphur occurs in all living things,
Sulphur dioxide is an important gas. As well as forming acid when dissolved in water, it is a bleaching agent used in many industrial processes.
Properties of sulphur
A mustard-yellow solid, chemical symbol S
The main use of sulphur in large volumes is to produce sulphuric acid, a major starting material in
Demonstration of properties of sulphur
Native, or pure, sulphur is a soft, yellow,
To imagine how this works, think of a can of spaghetti-rings. When cold, the contents of
the emptied can will stand up in a saucepan (they
act as a solid),
but when heated, the rings start to