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Chemistry LibreTexts

22: Chemistry of the Nonmetals

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  • The line that divides metals from nonmetals in the periodic table crosses the p block diagonally. As a result, the differences between metallic and nonmetallic properties are evident within each group, even though all members of each group have the same valence electron configuration. The p block is the only portion of the periodic table where we encounter the inert-pair effect. Moreover, as with the s-block elements, the chemistry of the lightest member of each group in the p block differs sharply from that of its heavier congeners but is similar to that of the element immediately below and to the right of it in the next group. Thus diagonal similarities in chemistry are seen across the p block.

    A nonmetal is a chemical element that mostly lacks metallic attributes. Physically, nonmetals tend to be highly volatile (easily vaporized), have low elasticity, and are good insulators of heat and electricity; chemically, they tend to have high ionization energy and electronegativity values, and gain or share electrons when they react with other elements or compounds. Seventeen elements are generally classified as nonmetals; most are gases (hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, neon, chlorine, argon, krypton, xenon and radon); one is a liquid (bromine); and a few are solids (carbon, phosphorus, sulfur, selenium, and iodine).

    As you study the periodic trends in properties and the reactivity of the elements in groups 13–18, you will learn how “cobalt blue” glass, rubies, and sapphires are made and why the US military became interested in using boron hydrides as rocket fuels but then abandoned its effort. You will also discover the source of diamonds on Earth, why silicon-based life-forms are likely to exist only in science fiction, and why most compounds with N–N bonds are potentially explosive. You will also learn why phosphorus can cause a painful and lethal condition known as “phossy jaw” and why selenium is used in photocopiers.

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