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This article is about the chemical element. For the article about Phosphorus meaning "morning star", go to Phosphorus (morning star).

15 siliconphosphorussulfur


periodic table
Name, Symbol, Number phosphorus, P, 15
Chemical series nonmetals
Group, Period, Block 15, 3, p
Appearance waxy white/ red/
black/ colorless
Atomic mass 30.973762 (2) g/mol
Electron configuration [ Ne] 3s2 3p3
Electrons per shell 2, 8, 5
Physical properties
Phase solid
Density (near r.t.) (white) 1.823 g/cm³
Density (near r.t.) (red) 2.34 g/cm³
Density (near r.t.) (black) 2.69 g/cm³
Melting point (white) 317.3 K
(44.2 ° C, 111.6 ° F)
Boiling point 550 K
(277 ° C, 531 ° F)
Heat of fusion (white) 0.66 kJ/mol
Heat of vaporization 12.4 kJ/mol
Heat capacity (25 °C) (white)
23.824 J/(mol·K)
Vapor pressure (white)
P/Pa 1 10 100 1 k 10 k 100 k
at T/K 279 307 342 388 453 549
Vapor pressure (red)
P/Pa 1 10 100 1 k 10 k 100 k
at T/K 455 489 529 576 635 704
Atomic properties
Oxidation states ±3, 5, 4
(mildly acidic oxide)
Electronegativity 2.19 ( Pauling scale)
Ionization energies
( more)
1st: 1011.8 kJ/mol
2nd: 1907 kJ/mol
3rd: 2914.1 kJ/mol
Atomic radius 100 pm
Atomic radius (calc.) 98 pm
Covalent radius 106 pm
Van der Waals radius 180 pm
Magnetic ordering no data
Thermal conductivity (300 K) (white)
0.236 W/(m·K)
Bulk modulus 11 GPa
CAS registry number 7723-14-0
Notable isotopes
Main article: Isotopes of phosphorus
iso NA half-life DM DE ( MeV) DP
31P 100% P is stable with 16 neutrons
32P syn 14.28 d β- 1.709 32S
33P syn 25.3 d β- 0.249 33S

Phosphorus, (from the Greek language phôs meaning "light", and phoros meaning "bearer"), is the chemical element in the periodic table that has the symbol P and atomic number 15. A multivalent nonmetal of the nitrogen group, phosphorus is commonly found in inorganic phosphate rocks and in all living cells. Due to its high reactivity, it is never found as a free element in nature. It emits a faint glow upon exposure to oxygen (hence its Greek derivation and the Latin meaning 'morning star'), occurs in several allotropic forms, and is an essential element for living organisms. The most important commercial use of phosphorus is in the production of fertilizers. It is also widely used in explosives, friction matches, fireworks, pesticides, toothpaste, and detergents.

Notable characteristics

Common phosphorus forms a waxy white solid that has a characteristic disagreeable smell similar to that of garlic. Pure forms of the element are colorless and transparent. This nonmetal is not soluble in water, but it is soluble in carbon disulfide. Pure phosphorus ignites spontaneously in air and burns to produce phosphorus pentoxide.


Phosphorus exists in three allotropic forms: white , red, and black . Other allotropic forms may exist. The most common are red and white phosphorus, both of which consist of networks of tetrahedrally arranged groups of four phosphorus atoms. The tetrahedra of white phosphorus form separate groups; the tetrahedra of red phosphorus are linked into chains. White phosphorus burns on contact with air and on exposure to heat or light.

Phosphorus also exists in kinetically and thermodynamically favored forms. They are separated by a transition temperature of -3.8 ° C. One is known as the "alpha" form, the other "beta". Red phosphorus is comparatively stable and sublimes at a vapor pressure of 1 atm at 170 °C but burns from impact or frictional heating. A black phosphorus allotrope exists which has a structure similar to graphite – the atoms are arranged in hexagonal sheet layers and will conduct electricity.


Concentrated phosphoric acids, which can consist of 70% to 75% P2O5 are very important to agriculture and farm production in the form of fertilizers. Global demand for fertilizers led to large increases in phosphate (PO43-) production in the second half of the 20th century. Other uses;

  • Phosphates are utilized in the making of special glasses that are used for sodium lamps.
  • Bone-ash, calcium phosphate, is used in the production of fine china .
  • Sodium tripolyphosphate made from phosphoric acid is used in laundry detergents in several countries, and banned for this use in others.
  • Phosphoric acid made from elementary phosphorus is used in food applications such as soda beverages. The acid is also a starting point to make food grade phosphates. These include mono-calcium phosphate which is employed in baking powder and sodium tripolyphosphate and other sodium phosphates. Among other uses, these are used to improve the characteristics of processed meat and cheese. Others are used in toothpaste. Trisodium phosphate is used in cleaning agents to soften water and for preventing pipe/boiler tube corrosion.
  • Phosphorus is widely used to make organophosphorus compounds, through the intermediates phosphorus chlorides and phosphorus sulphide. These have many applications, including in plasticizers, flame retardants, pesticides, extraction agents, and water treatment.
  • This element is also an important component in steel production, in the making of phosphor bronze, and in many other related products.
  • White phosphorus is used in military applications as incendiary bombs, for smoke-screening as smoke pots and smoke bombs, and in tracer ammunition.
  • Red phosphorus is essential for manufacturing matchbook strikers, flares, and, most notoriously, methamphetamine.
  • In trace amounts, phosphorus is used as a dopant for N-type semiconductors.
  • 32P and 33P are used as radioactive tracers in biochemical laboratories (see #Isotopes).

Biological role

Phosphorus is a key element in all known forms of life. Inorganic phosphorus in the form of the phosphate PO43- plays a major role in biological molecules such as DNA and RNA where it forms part of the structural backbone of these molecules. Living cells also utilize phosphate to transport cellular energy via adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Nearly every cellular process that uses energy gets it in the form of ATP. ATP is also important for phosphorylation, a key regulatory event in cells. Phospholipids are the main structural components of all cellular membranes. Calcium phosphate salts are used by animals to stiffen their bones. An average person contains a little less than 1 kg of phosphorus, about three quarters of which is present in bones and teeth in the form of apatite. A well-fed adult in the industrialized world consumes and excretes about 1-3 g of phosphorus per day in the form of phosphate.

In ecological terms, phosphorus is often a limiting nutrient in many environments, i.e. the availability of phosphorus governs the rate of growth of many organisms. In ecosystems an excess of phosphorus can be problematic, especially in aquatic systems, see eutrophication and algal blooms.


Phosphorus ( Greek phosphoros, meaning "light bearer" which was the ancient name for the planet Venus) was discovered by German alchemist Hennig Brand in 1669 through a preparation from urine. Working in Hamburg, Brand attempted to distill salts by evaporating urine, and in the process produced a white material that glowed in the dark and burned brilliantly. Since that time, phosphorescence has been used to describe substances that shine in the dark without burning.

Early matches used white phosphorus in their composition, which was dangerous due to its toxicity. Murders, suicides and accidental poisonings resulted from its use. (An apocryphal tale tells of a woman attempting to murder her husband with white phosphorus in his food, which was detected by the stew giving off luminous steam). In addition, exposure to the vapors gave match workers a necrosis of the bones of the jaw, the infamous " phossy-jaw." When red phosphorus was discovered, with its far lower flammability and toxicity, it was adopted as a safer alternative for match manufacture.


Due to its reactivity to air and many other oxygen containing substances, phosphorus is not found free in nature but it is widely distributed in many different minerals. Phosphate rock, which is partially made of apatite (an impure tri-calcium phosphate mineral), is an important commercial source of this element. Large deposits of apatite are located in China, Russia, Morocco, Florida, Idaho, Tennessee, Utah, and elsewhere. There are however concerns over how long these phosphorus deposits will last. The United States will deplete its deposits around 2035. China and Morocco have the largest known deposits today, but they too will eventually be depleted. During that depletion there could be a serious problem for the world's food production since phosphorus is such an essential ingredient in fertilizers.

The white allotrope can be produced using several different methods. In one process, tri-calcium phosphate, which is derived from phosphate rock, is heated in an electric or fuel-fired furnace in the presence of carbon and silica. Elemental phosphorus is then liberated as a vapor and can be collected under phosphoric acid.


This is a particularly poisonous element with 50 mg being the average fatal dose (white phosphorus is generally considered to be the lethal form of phosphorus while phosphate and orthophosphate are essential nutrients). The allotrope white phosphorus should be kept under water at all times as it presents a significant fire hazard due to its extreme reactivity to atmospheric oxygen, and it should only be manipulated with forceps since contact with skin can cause severe burns. Chronic white phosphorus poisoning of unprotected workers leads to necrosis of the jaw called " phossy-jaw". Ingestion of white phosphorus may cause a medical condition known as "Smoking Stool Syndrome". Organic compounds of phosphorus form a wide class of materials, some of which are extremely toxic. Fluorophosphate esters are among the most potent neurotoxins known. A wide range of organophosphorus compounds is used for their toxicity to certain organisms as pesticides ( herbicides, insecticides, fungicides etc). Most inorganic phosphates are relatively nontoxic and essential nutrients. For environmentally adverse effects of phosphates see eutrophication and algal blooms.

When the white form is exposed to sunlight or when it is heated in its own vapor to 250 °C, it is transmuted to the red form, which does not phosphoresce in air. The red allotrope does not spontaneously ignite in air and is not as dangerous as the white form. Nevertheless, it should be handled with care because it does revert to white phosphorus in some temperature ranges and it also emits highly toxic fumes that consist of phosphorus oxides when it is heated.

Upon exposure to elemental phosphorus, in the past it was suggested to wash the affected area with 2% copper sulfate solution to form harmless compounds that can be washed away. According to the recent US Navy's Treatment of Chemical Agent Casualties and Conventional Military Chemical Injuries: FM8-285: Part 2 Conventional Military Chemical Injuries, "Cupric (copper) sulfate has been used by U.S. personnel in the past and is still being used by some nations. However, copper sulfate is toxic and its use will be discontinued. Copper sulfate may produce kidney and cerebral toxicity as well as intravascular hemolysis."

The manual suggests instead "a bicarbonate solution to neutralize phosphoric acid, which will then allow removal of visible WP. Particles often can be located by their emission of smoke when air strikes them, or by their phosphorescence in the dark. In dark surroundings, fragments are seen as luminescent spots." Then, "Promptly debride the burn if the patient's condition will permit removal of bits of WP which might be absorbed later and possibly produce systemic poisoning. DO NOT apply oily-based ointments until it is certain that all WP has been removed. Following complete removal of the particles, treat the lesions as thermal burns." As white phosphorus readily mixes with oils, any oily substances or ointments are disrecommended until the area is thoroughly cleaned and all white phosphorus removed.

Further warnings of toxic effects and recommendations for treatment can be found in the [ Emergency War Surgery NATO Handbook: Part I: Types of Wounds and Injuries: Chapter III: Burn Injury: Chemical Burns And White Phosphorus injury].


Radioactive isotopes of phosphorus include:

  • 32P; a beta-emitter (1.71 MeV) with a half-life of 14.3 days which is used routinely in life-science laboratories, primarily to produce radiolabeled DNA and RNA probes, e.g. for use in Northern blots or Southern blots. Because the high energy beta particles produced penetrate skin and corneas, and because any 32P ingested, inhaled, or absorbed is readily incorporated into bone and nucleic acids, OSHA requires that a lab coat, disposable gloves, and safety glasses or goggles be worn when working with 32P, and that working directly over an open container be avoided in order to protect the eyes. Monitoring personal, clothing, and surface contamination is also required. In addition, due to the high energy of the beta particles, shielding this radiation with the normally used dense materials (e.g. lead), gives rise to secondary emission of X-rays via a process known as Bremsstrahlung, meaning braking radiation. Therefore shielding must be accomplished with low density materials, e.g. Plexiglas, acrylic, Lucite, plastic, wood, or water. [1]
  • 33P; a beta-emitter (0.25 MeV) with a half-life of 25.4 days. It is used in life-science laboratories in applications in which lower energy beta emissions are advantageous such as DNA sequencing.


According to the Oxford English Dictionary the correct spelling of the element is phosphorus. The word phosphorous is the adjectival form for the P3+ valency: so, just as sulfur forms sulfurous and sulfuric compounds, so phosphorus forms phosphorous and phosphoric compounds.


  • Ammonium phosphate ((NH4)3PO4)
  • Phosphine (Phosphorus Trihydride PH3)
  • Calcium phosphate (Ca3(PO4)2)
  • Calcium dihydrogen phosphate (Ca(H2PO4)2)
  • Calcium phosphide (Ca3P2)
  • Iron(III) phosphate (FePO4)
  • Iron(II) phosphate (Fe3(PO4)2)
  • Hypophosphorous acid (H3PO2)
  • Lawesson's reagent
  • Parathion
  • Phosphoric acid (H3PO4)
  • Phosphorus pentabromide (PBr5)
  • Phosphorus pentoxide (P2O5)
  • Phosphorus tribromide (PBr3)
  • Phosphorus trichloride (PCl3)
  • Phosphorus triiodide (PI3)
  • Sarin
  • Soman
  • Monopotassium phosphate (KH2PO4)
  • Trisodium phosphate (Na3PO4)
  • VX
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