Video: Identifying the Best Description of the Conversion of Nitrogen to Nitrogen Oxide in a Set of Descriptions

Which of the following best describes the conversion of nitrogen to nitrogen oxide? [A] Fusion [B] Precipitation [C] Nuclear transformation [D] Combustion [E] Reduction


Video Transcript

Which of the following best describes the conversion of nitrogen to nitrogen oxide? A) fusion, B) Precipitation, C) Nuclear transformation, D) Combustion, or E) Reduction.

The element nitrogen could most commonly be found as a gas in the form of N₂. Nitrogen oxide is one of the many nitrogen oxides, and it, too, is normally found as a gas. What we’re looking at is the conversion of one to the other. And the first thing we need to solve is, where did this oxygen come from? The most obvious source for oxygen would be oxygen itself in the form of O₂. And one more NO on the right-hand side balances this equation.

Nitrogen oxide is a common byproduct of lightning strikes and internal combustion engines. These circumstances provide the high energy needed to rearrange the atoms. In industrial settings, nitrogen oxide is generated from other sources like ammonia. Now, we can have a look at the five descriptions we’ve been given and see which one best applies to the conversion of nitrogen to nitrogen oxide.

Fusion reactions are generally considered to be nuclear fusion reactions, so we don’t see fusion appear much in chemical reactions. The most popular fusion reaction in the universe is that which goes on inside our Sun, the fusion of hydrogen nuclei to form helium nuclei. In the conversion of nitrogen to nitrogen oxide, all the particles retain their elemental identity. None of them fuse together, so it’s not a fusion reaction.

A precipitation reaction is where we produce a solid from solution. A good example of this is when we mix together solutions of lead nitrate and potassium iodide, producing the brilliant yellow precipitate of lead iodide. In our reaction, we’re only producing nitrogen oxide, which would be a gas and not particularly soluble in solution. So, we’re not dealing with a precipitation.

Meanwhile, the nuclear transformation involves a change in the composition of one or more nuclei. For instance, when thorium-234 decays via beta emission, we produce protactinium-234. In the process, one neutron in each thorium-234 nucleus decays into a proton. In the conversion of nitrogen to nitrogen oxide, we don’t see any nuclei change their identity. Nitrogen is always nitrogen and oxygen is always oxygen.

Meanwhile, a combustion reaction is one where commonly a component reacts with oxygen, although combustion can involve a different oxidizing agent. The conversion of nitrogen to nitrogen oxide could be via a combustion reaction. So, so far, it’s the best description we have for this process. But just to be safe, let’s have a look at reduction.

In a reduction reaction, components of specific chemicals undergo a reduction in their oxidation state, commonly by gaining of electrons. Nitrogen is our focus for this conversion, and we start with an oxidation number of zero. In nitrogen oxide, the oxygen, being more electronegative, will have an oxidation state of minus two, meaning that the nitrogen must have an oxidation state of plus two. This is actually the reverse of reduction. It’s an oxidation. We’re seeing an increase in the oxidation number of our nitrogens. So, the conversion of nitrogen to nitrogen oxide is not a reduction.

You may have noticed that the oxygen in this process is being reduced, but that’s not part of the question. We’re only interested in the conversion of nitrogen to nitrogen oxide. With all other options eliminated, combustion rises as the best description of the conversion of nitrogen to nitrogen oxide, although there may be cases where nitrogen would be converted to nitrogen oxide through other means that aren’t classed as combustion.

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