Sulfur Facts

Elements are the basic building blocks of all substances and many elements have very interesting facts about them, many of which are little known.  One such element is Sulfur, also spelled as Sulphur in British Schools (though the Royal Society of Chemistry states the Sulfur is correct).  That fact is important if you are reading old texts!

The most common form of sulfur is hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs.  This smell was associated with volcanoes and death, and “brimstone from Hell”.  The origins of the word sulfur literally means brimstone and was cursed in the Bible!  Sulfur was first recognized as an element in 1777 by A. L. Lavoisier.

Almost every ancient culture around the world has mined and used sulfur, usually for creating bad smells and mystical healing.  The Chinese started mixing it with saltpeter and charcoal, and the mixture became explosive.  Gunpowder does not work without sulfur.  The mystical healing was because sulfur is toxic to many bacteria and parasites, sulfur springs in Nevis in the Caribbean were even claimed to cure leprosy! 

Sulfur still is used for pharmaceuticals today, as well as a lot of other things.  It is used for making some types of rubber, asphalt, insecticides, and detergents.  Explosive uses of sulfur include fireworks, gunpowder and the common match!  It is very caustic when mixed with hydrogen and oxygen to form sulfuric acid, which is used in many other chemical processes, but also in car batteries!

Sulfur is a non-metallic, reactive element that will mix with all other elements except the noble gases (which by definition will mix with nothing), gold and platinum.

Organic sulfur comprises about 0.25% of the human body, is mostly in the tissues but is also important in nerves and hair.  An improper sulfur balance can result in hair loss in mammals or feathers in birds (Burning hair and feathers smell bad due to the sulfur)! There is avery detailed description of how sulfur is used by the body on on Additional facts about organic sulfur.  

Are there any other interesting facts about sulfur.  It depends upon who you ask and what you define as interesting.  A chemist will find almost any facts about an elements interesting and essential to know.  If that is the case, check out under sulfur!