Ammonia is one of the chemicals that feeds the world. No, you shouldn’t drink it from a bottle, and mixing it into your flan would be a bad idea, but about 83% of ammonia produced industrially is used as fertilizers, either as salts or as solutions, and it is estimated that fertilizer generated from ammonia sustains one-third of the Earth’s population, and that half of the protein the world eats grows from nitrogen produced from ammonia, while the remainder was produced by nitrogen fixing bacteria.
Fritz Haber and and Carl Bosch, developers of the Haber process, were the brains behind the industrial use of ammonia in the 20th century, allowing manufacturers to pull the nitrogen needed to make up ammonia out of thin air. Haber is also known as the “father of chemical warfare,” and you can read a review of a short biographical film about him if you’d like to learn a little more about this complex and controversial figure.
As you’ll learn from the Chemistry Now video, ammonia is also used in household cleaners because of its ability to break down fatty acids so surfaces may be wiped clean. It also has the handy (or problematic, depending on your point of view) tendency to vanish back into the thin air, leaving a sparkling surface behind.
We have reached the 12th week of the weekly, online, video series “Chemistry Now,” and the chemistry of the kitchen moves under the sink as a source of interesting video and lessons. As we’ve written before, please view the video, try the lessons, and let us know what you think.
Photo: Rae Allen
Through the Chemistry Now series, NSTA and NBC Learn have teamed up with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create lessons related to common, physical objects in our world and the changes they undergo every day. The series also looks at the lives and work of scientists on the frontiers of 21st century chemistry.
Video: It’s a staple of Spring Cleaning: all-purpose ammonia cleaner. “The Dirt on Ammonia as a Cleaning Agent” explains how ammonia works with water to dissolve fatty acids, like stearic acid, in greasy dirt.
Middle school lesson: the Sugar Cube Investigation allows students to understand factors that affect the rate at which a solute dissolves.
High school lesson: the Solubility and Bonding lesson describes the relationship between types of bonding, polarity, and solubility.
You can use the following form to e-mail us edited versions of the lesson plans: