Oxygen fuels life on this planet as it is the element of respiration that keeps us alive. Keeping this in mind let’s have a look at the composition of air. It comprises of 0.93% argon, 20.95% of oxygen and the abundantly gas, nitrogen forms 78.08% of the air. Other substances like carbon dioxide, other inert gases, etc. are present in trace amount. Today in this article we will talk about nitrogen chemistry. Especially about the pros and cons of liquid nitrogen.

Nitrogen

Nitrogen symbolizes as N is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It is a diatomic gas that means two nitrogen sharing bonds exist in nature occupying 78.08% of the air. Hence the molecular formula for nitrogen is N2. The atomic weight of nitrogen is 14.01. Nitrogen has three bonds which are difficult to break under natural standard conditions. Hence nitrogen is inert in nature. But nitrogen should not be confused with noble gases. Nobel gases are very stable in their chemical configuration and hence they are inert.

It is needless to mention that nitrogen is a crucial biological component. It is a basic element of DNA that codes for different life process that keeps us alive. It is the major component of chlorophyll which is responsible for the green color of leaves and important in making food by the plants. Likewise, nitrogen has much other biological significance.

Liquid nitrogen

The nitrogen generally exists in the gaseous state. In this case, it is used for food processing, refrigeration systems gas and many more.

Although Daniel Rutherford in 1772 discovered liquid Nitrogen, it was first liquefied by Polish physicists Zygmunt Wróblewski and Karol Olszewski.

Liquid nitrogen is similarly non-toxic, colorless and odorless. And inert as well as nitrogen as it has two nitrogen sharing three bonds as discussed earlier. Liquid nitrogen is often denoted by LIN. LN2 and LN also symbolize the same.

Commercially liquid nitrogen is obtained by a method called fractional distillation. Fractional distillation is a method of separation of a mixture, on the basis of the point. The boiling point is the temperature at which the liquid starts changing to gas.  Liquid nitrogen is separated from air liquefied air as it has a boiling point of 196oc (water boils at 1000c).

The uniqueness about liquid nitrogen is that it is a cryogenic liquid.  It is an extremely cold liquid that does not freeze until −210 °C (water freezes at 00c). This property exhibits several biological aids. This will be discussed soon but before that let’s check the containers designed specifically to hold liquid nitrogen.

Containers

Containers for liquid nitrogen serves the purposes of storing and shipping. Three types of containers those are used for the same are

  1. Dewar
  2. Cryogenic liquid cylinder, and
  3. Cryogenic storage tank.

The container is designed in a way that the heat leak that occurs from the container it should allow least of the liquid nitrogen to escape into its gas form. The container of choice is elected on the amount of the liquid nitrogen is to be stored.

Biological Assistance of Liquid Nitrogen

Removal of Skin Abnormalities (warts)

Warts are those non-cancerous skin outgrowth that can develop on different parts of the body of any shape. Warts formed due to a virus called the Human papillomaviruses (HPV) is communicable. Another form is senile warts also called seborrheic keratosis that occurs to older people unlike viral warts common in children and teenagers. They are harmless and not communicable.

Cryogenics is defined as the scientific study of the behavior of substance at extremely low temperatures. A cryogenic material may be termed a cryogen. And liquid nitrogen is a cryogenic liquid and is used in the cryotherapy for removal of warts.

In A Review by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health; the effectiveness of liquid nitrogen is mentioned. The dermatologist (a doctor who treats skin specific problems) applies the liquid nitrogen over warts. After approximately a week session, the cold liquid due to its chillness destroys the cells and breaks from the attachment (Cryosurgery).

The West Lothian Community Health and Care Partnership along with the local pharmacy department have decided that they will no longer supply any aid involving liquid nitrogen used for cryotherapy because of certain potential risk associated with it. Side effects like blister formation and skin irritation are observed in case of wart removal. Liquid nitrogen is so cryogenic that it might cause frozen bite if mishandled.

Long-term storage of biological fluid – Semen

In an article by J. W. Macpherson, it was reported that liquid nitrogen is advantages over other storage agents like mechanical refrigeration or liquid carbon dioxide for long-term storage of semen. In an experiment carried out on bull semen the same was proved. Bull semen was stored at -195.8°C of liquid nitrogen and on mechanical refrigeration at -87°C and the result was compared.  The result showed more cows were impregnated with the nitrogen stored semen over mechanically refrigerated semen.

Certain other biological fluid like blood and sometimes enzymes for certain diagnostic purposes used liquid nitrogen for storage.

A case study on popular liquid Nitrogen infused food like drinks and ice creams.

Liquid nitrogen is being used as an additive to alcoholic drinks and other eatables like ice cream to create an aesthetic ‘smoking’ effect which is pleasing to eyes. But they are not to be entertained as they can be lethal.

An 18-year-old girl was admitted to the emergency department on consumption of an alcoholic drink containing liquid nitrogen.  Immediately after consumption of the drink, she complained sudden onset of severe abdominal pain and shortness of breath.

A 4 cm hole was observed on her stomach wall (gastric perforation) surrounded by severing tissue damage. We all know now that nitrogen is a cryogenic liquid and can cause severe burns to the tissues. Initial antibiotics and surgery were performed as treatment.

The FDA states that, although liquid nitrogen is nontoxic but due to its cryogenic nature it can cause serious skin and organ damage if mishandled or accidentally consumed in respective cases. Even the vapor produced by liquid nitrogen can be an irritant to asthma patients.

Safety measures

Due to the cryogenic nature of liquid nitrogen certain safety measures should be strictly followed.

  1. The skin surface should be insulted while handling liquid nitrogen to prevent frostbite
  2. As liquid nitrogen is heavier than air, it can reduce a certain amount of oxygen. This can result in asphyxiation risk (state of being deprived of oxygen that might lead to death

Caution

While liquid nitrogen can be used for superficial skin treatment, consumption of liquid nitrogen can be fatal due to its cryogenic property. As we have learned from the case study. Today consumption of liquid nitrogen drink and ice cream has gained popularity among the millennial which may not result into a healthy outcome. The intention of this article is to help you assist make proper decision before ordering those fumy food just to please your five senses.

Reference

https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Nitrogen

https://www.eo.ucar.edu/basics/wx_1_b_1.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0030275/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072770/

https://www.thoughtco.com/cryogenics-definition-4142815

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3481496/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1585590/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1145973/

https://www.thoughtco.com/can-you-drink-liquid-nitrogen-607424

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0071185/

https://www.thoughtco.com/liquid-nitrogen-facts-608504

https://www.airproducts.com/~/media/Files/PDF/company/safetygram-7.pdf

https://www.wndu.com/content/news/FDA-Consumption-of-liquid-nitrogen-infused-food-drink-could-cause-injury-492296331.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3604202/?log$=activity

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