The 14th International Conference on

Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences

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In chemistry, a nonmetal (or non-metal) is a chemical element that mostly lacks the characteristics of a metal. Physically, a nonmetal tends to have a relatively low melting point, boiling point, and density. A nonmetal is typically brittle when solid and usually has poor thermal conductivity and electrical conductivity. Chemically, nonmetals tend to have relatively high ionization energy, electron affinity, and electronegativity. They gain or share electrons when they react with other elements and chemical 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). Metalloids such as boron, silicon, and germanium are sometimes counted as nonmetals.

The elements generally classified as nonmetals include one element in group 1 (hydrogen); one in group 14 (carbon); two in group 15 (nitrogen and phosphorus); three in group 16 (oxygen, sulfur and selenium); most of group 17 (fluorine, chlorine, bromine and iodine); and all of group 18 (with the possible exception of oganesson).

Nonmetals show more variability in their properties than do metals. These properties are largely determined by the interatomic bonding strengths and molecular structures of the nonmetals involved, both of which are subject to variation as the number of valence electrons in each nonmetal varies. Metals, in contrast, have more homogenous structures and their properties are more easily reconciled.

Hydrogen is noted for the different ways it forms bonds. It most commonly forms covalent bonds. It can lose its single valence electron in aqueous solution, leaving behind a bare proton with tremendous polarising power. This subsequently attaches itself to the lone electron pair of an oxygen atom in a water molecule, thereby forming the basis of acid-base chemistry. Under certain conditions a hydrogen atom in a molecule can form a second, weaker, bond with an atom or group of atoms in another molecule. Such bonding, "helps give snowflakes their hexagonal symmetry, binds DNA into a double helix; shapes the three-dimensional forms of proteins; and even raises water’s boiling point high enough to make a decent cup of tea.

Based on shared attributes, the nonmetals can be divided into the two categories of reactive nonmetal, and noble gas. The metalloids and the two nonmetal categories then span a progression in chemical nature from weakly nonmetallic, to moderately nonmetallic, to strongly nonmetallic (oxygen and the four nonmetallic halogens), to almost inert. Analogous categories occur among the metals in the form of the weakly metallic (the post-transition metals), the moderately metallic (most of the transition metals), the strongly metallic (the alkali metal and alkaline earth metals, and the lanthanides and actinides), and the relatively inert (the noble transition metals).

While they each have a metallic appearance, they are brittle and only fair conductors of electricity. Boron, silicon, germanium, tellurium are semiconductors. Arsenic and antimony have the electronic band structures of semimetals although both have less stable semiconducting allotropes. Astatine has been predicted to have a metallic crystalline structure.

Chemically, they tend to have moderate to high ionisation energies, electron affinities, and electronegativity values, and be relatively strong oxidising agents. Collectively, the highest values of these properties are found among oxygen and the nonmetallic halogens. Manifestations of this status include oxygen's major association with the ubiquitous processes of corrosion and combustion, and the intrinsically corrosive nature of the nonmetallic halogens. All five of these nonmetals exhibit a tendency to form predominately ionic compounds with metals whereas the remaining nonmetals tend to form predominately covalent compounds with metals.

Carbon and phosphorus represent an example of a less-well known diagonal relationship, especially in organic chemistry. "Spectacular" evidence of this relationship was provided in 1987 with the synthesis of a ferrocene-like molecule in which six of the carbon atoms were replaced by phosphorus atoms. Further illustrating the theme is the "extraordinary" similarity between low coordinate phosphorus compounds and unsaturated carbon compounds, and related research into organophosphorus chemistry.

"Chlorination reactions have many similarities to oxidation reactions. They tend not to be limited to thermodynamic equilibrium and often go to complete chlorination. The reactions are often highly exothermic. Chlorine, like oxygen, forms flammable mixtures with organic compounds.

Hydrogen and helium are estimated to make up approximately 99 per cent of all ordinary matter in the universe. Less than five per cent of the Universe is believed to be made of ordinary matter, represented by stars, planets and living beings. The balance is made of dark energy and dark matter, both of which are poorly understood at present.

Carbon, sulfur, and antimony were known in antiquity. The earliest known use of charcoal dates to around 3750 BCE. The Egyptians and Sumerians employed it for the reduction of copper, zinc, and tin ores in the manufacture of bronze. Diamonds were probably known from as early as 2500 BCE. The first true chemical analyses were made in the 18th century; Lavoisier recognized carbon as an element in 1789. Sulfur usage dates from before 2500 BCE; it was recognized as an element by Antoine Lavoisier in 1777. Antimony usage was concurrent with that of sulfur; the Louvre holds a 5,000 year old vase made of almost pure antimony.


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