One of the most interesting facts about sulfur is that it changes colors depending on its state of matter. Solid sulfur usually is pale to bright yellow. Liquid sulfur is red. The element produces a bright blue flame when it burns.
The name of element 16 is sulfur, with an element symbol S. Its atomic mass is 32.06. The element’s name is spelled either sulfur (IUPAC) or sulphur (older spelling and still used in some countries). The name “sulfur” comes from the Sanskrit word sulvere and Latin word sulpur, which refer to sulfur or brimstone. There is some speculation the name may come from the Sanskrit word shulbari which means “enemy of copper”. Sulfur reacts strongly with copper and several other metals.
Sulfur is one of the few elements that occurs naturally in pure form (native form). Ancient man was familiar with this pure element, which featured prominently in alchemy and early medicine. Although it occurs in pure form, sulfur also forms many compounds and is present in minerals.
Native sulfur is primarily of volcanic origin. The element is responsible for the rotten egg smell of volcanoes. Sulfur in organic compounds is responsible for why cutting onions makes people cry and why asparagus makes urine smell strange. However, pure sulfur has no odor.
Sulfur is the 10th most abundant element in the universe. It makes up about 3% of the mass of the Earth, which would be sufficient to make two bodies the size of the Moon. It is found in every living organism and is an important component of amino acids and proteins. The vitamins biotin and thiamine contain sulfur. A 150-lb adult human contains about 140 grams of sulfur.
Sulfur and its compounds have numerous uses. It is used to make sulfuric acid, batteries, cleaners, refining petroleum, and purifying chemicals. It is a common wine preservative and fumigant.
One interesting characteristic of sulfur is that it does not readily dissolve in common solvents. The element can be melting to form a plastic, but because the structure of the solid readily changes from one form into another, the polymer quickly degrades and loses its strength.
Sulfur dioxide from fossil fuel power plants is one of the primary causes of acid rain.
Element atomic number 16 can act as either an oxidizing agent or reducing agent.
Sulfur is found in many meteorites. Its presence accounts for the yellowish color of Jupiter’s moon, Io.
Although known since ancient time, sulfur was not officially recognized as a chemical element until 1789, when Antoine Lavoisier listed it as an element.
Sulfur forms in massive stars when a helium nucleus and a silicon nucleus fuse together.
The antibiotic penicillin naturally contains sulfur.