Discovery of Phosphorus

Hennig Brand, a German merchant, discovered this element in 1669 when he conducted an experiment on urine. He collected 50 buckets of urine and waited until they putrified and bred worms. It was then boiled down to a paste and heated with sand, thus distilling Phosphorus from the mixture. Even though Brand had written about this element, it remained a mystery in the scientific world until it was later discovered to be a component of bones.
Phosphorus - Periodic Table of Videos

Uses of Phosphorus

This element is used in many everyday items. It is mainly known for its vitality in plant fertilizer. Red phosphorus is also used in the manufacturing of matchsticks and other pyrotechnics. Other uses, such as LED lights, steel, and detergents, are common everyday items that we see/use without knowing of the phosphorus inside of it.

In Nature...

Phosphorus is never found in its pure form in nature. It is only found as phosphates, which is phosphorus and oxygen atoms bonded together. This element appears in foods, minerals, and in bodies of water. Phosphorus can be found abundantly in tuna, salmon, sardines, liver, turkey, chicken, eggs, and cheese. Mining phosphate minerals supports many countries and businesses. Apatite being the most abundant form of phosphate minerals, provides some of the most extensively mined deposits. Some concern has been brought up on this mining though. In case of a phosphorus depletion, there could be large effects on food production because phosphorus plays a large role in fertilizers. Phosphorus is also found in water. In a large body of water, like an ocean, phosphate concentration decreases to the top of the water. Phosphate is quickly used up and falls deep into the ocean, leaving a lower concentration of phosphates at the top. In rivers and lakes, more phosphate can be available and if it is too concentrated it can lead to an algae bloom.

In nature, the two most popular kinds of phosphorus can be found: red and white. Red phosphorus is extremely toxic, being capable of burning human skin if touched. White phosphorus, however, is considered non-toxic.

Finding pure phosphorus in nature almost never happens. To convert the phosphates that are found into usable materials, there are two techniques that can be used. The first is technique is the acidulation of crushed rock, normally using sulfuric or phosphoric acids. When acidulated, refined calcium hydrate phosphates are formed. Another technique is to use an electric furnace to reduce the phosphate with carbon, forming the elemental phosphorus.

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Nitrogen & Phosphorus Cycles: Always Recycle! Part 2 - Crash Course Ecology #9


  • There are 23 isotopes of phosphorus, but only 1 is stable
  • Hennig Brand, the discoverer of phosphorus, was the first person to discover an element
  • It is the sixth most abundant element in living organisms
  • White phosphorus can spontaneously combust in air while red phosphorus needs friction to ignite it
  • It is in DNA, RNA, ATP, and cell membranes


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Periodic Videos. (2010, August 22). Phosphorus - Periodic Table of Videos [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com

Phosphorus [Photograph]. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com

Phosphorus Element Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from Chemicool website: http://www.chemicool.com

Phosphorus Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2014, from http://www.softschools.com

Phosphorus - P. (n.d.). Retrieved December 11, 2014, from http://www.lenntech.com

Sanderson, R. T. (n.d.). Phosphorus (P). Retrieved from Encyclopedia Britannica database.

S.K., D. (n.d.). Phosphorus, a nonmetal [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com