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What is phosphorus used for?

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Quick Answer

Phosphorus is used in the production of steel, matches, fertilizer, detergents, light-emitting diodes, dishware, baking soda, weapons, fireworks and as a medical treatment. Phosphorus is used by the body for tooth and bone growth. It is also found in many cellular chemicals, such as adenosine triphosphate and nucleic acids.

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Full Answer

Elemental phosphorus is highly reactive and doesn't have a lot of industrial use. In fact, phosphorus is primarily used in chemical compounds, such as phosphoric acid and sodium tripolyphosphate.

There are three primary forms of elemental phosphorus: red, white and black. White phosphorus is poisonous, highly reactive and combusts when in contact with air. It has been used in incendiary weapons and in the production of fireworks.

Red phosphorus is formed by heating white phosphorus to 250 degrees Celsius. It is more stable than white phosphorus and is used for making matches. Black phosphorus is created by further heating the red phosphorus. Black phosphorus is very stable and has properties similar to graphite.

Phosphorus was discovered in 1669 by German physician and alchemist Hennig Brand. He isolated phosphorus from urine by boiling it down and filtering the urine until he had a thick white phosphorus paste. He called his discovery "cold fire," because it glowed in the dark.

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