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Chemistry of the Nonmetals

In the previous chapters of this book we have discussed chemical principles, such as the laws of thermodynamics, the formation of chemical bonds, the behavior of different phases of matter, the factors that influence reaction rates and equilibria, and so forth. In the course of explaining these principles, we have described the chemical and physical properties of many substances. We have done little, however, to examine the elements and their compounds in a systematic fashion. This aspect of chemistry, referred to as descriptive chemistry, is the subject of the next several chapters.

We will take a panoramic view of the descriptive chemistry of the nonmetallic elements in this chapter, starting with hydrogen and then progressing, group by group, from right to left in the periodic table. As we examine the elements, we will consider how they occur in nature, how they are isolated from their sources, and how they are used. As we do so, we will encounter the chemistry of the most commercially important compounds of the elements. We will emphasize hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon. These four nonmetals form many commercially important compounds, and they account for 99% of the atoms required by living cells. We will discuss further aspects of the chemistry of these elements when we consider organic and biological chemistry in Chapter 25.

As you study descriptive chemistry, it is important to look for trends rather than trying to memorize all the facts presented. The periodic table is your most valuable tool in this task.

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