Oxygen Essay

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Oxygen is a normally gaseous, nonmetallic chemical element with the symbol O and the atomic number 8. It is widely prevalent in the earth’s atmosphere, in which it is essential for the respiration of humans and other living creatures. It is also widely prevalent across 70 percent of the earth’s surface in the form of water (H2O), of which the most important compound is oxygen.

Oxygen was discovered in the 18th century by Joseph Priestley in England, Carl Wilhelm Scheele in Sweden, and Antoine Lavoisier in France, working independently. Lavoisier was responsible for identifying oxygen as an element and determining its role in combustion, which had previously been attributed to the phenomenon of phlogiston.

Oxygen constitutes approximately 0.03 percent of all atoms in the universe, which makes it the fourth most common element. However, it is the most abundant element on the earth, representing nearly half the mass of the earth’s crust, 90 percent of the mass of the earth’s water, and 20 percent of the mass of the air. In small quantities, particularly in the upper atmosphere, oxygen exists in the form enabled flight and space flight at high altitudes. As of O3 rather than the normal O2 molecule, when it air pollution has intensified in the modern world, is known as ozone.

Oxygen first appeared on the earth in free form approximately two billion years ago when it was produced as a by-product of the living process of early anaerobic creatures. This enabled the evolution of modern, aerobic life forms and these subsequently developed photosynthetic processes that have greatly increased the amount of oxygen present. A significant amount of the oxygen reacted with hydrogen to create water, making organic life possible. Without the release of oxygen, therefore, the earth would have remained wholly inhospitable to modern life forms.

While plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as part of photosynthesis, animals including humans inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. This means that there is an approximate balance for total amounts of the different gases, although this balance is subject to many other intervening variables. Evidence suggests, albeit inconclusively, that it is the presence of free radicals (atoms or groups of atoms that have one missing electron and are usually oxygen atoms) that results in the aging process.

Oxygen has numerous scientific and technological purposes. Its role in combustion, in which it combines with another substance generally at high temperatures, means it has many uses in equipment for melting, soldering, and burning materials. The role of oxygen in respiration means that it is of great importance in medical science.

Oxygen is also important in regulating the environment in which fish and other aquatic creatures live, since these also need oxygen, and environmental degradation can reduce the oxygen level in water. Oxygen regulation is of great importance in fish farming and related industries. Intensive agricultural activities may have contributed to the lack of oxygen (hypoxia) in some important waterways.

Since oxygen will react chemically with many other substances, it is necessary to find methods to prevent the two coming into contact under some circumstances. This has helped to stimulate the creation of rust proofing and vacuum packing technologies. The opposite use of such technologies has been used in providing pressurized cabins that have particularly in urban environments, increasing numbers of people have been suffering from asthma and similar conditions and have sought relief from inhaling oxygen. Pure oxygen for sale has become a feature in supposedly chic urban cafes.


  1. E. Cross et al., “Oxygen Radicals and Human Disease,” Annals of Internal Medicine (v.107/4, 1987);
  2. Nick Lane, Oxygen: The Molecule that Made the World (Oxford University Press, 2004);
  3. Marc Ribaudo, “Hypoxia in the Gulf: Addressing Agriculture’s Contribution,” Amber Waves (v.4, 2006).

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