Okay, so the topic of nitrogen may not be the most exciting one in the world. You’ll rarely win the favor of friends, family, and perspective mates by discussing the hydrolysis of adenosine triphosphate into inorganic phosphate and adenosine diphosphate.
On the other hand, nitrogen makes up over 78% of our atmosphere, and is absolutely essential for most of the life on this planet. That’s what I call important, if not necessarily riveting.
If you’re the type that likes explosions, listen up: nitrogen is responsible for some very big bangs. You’ve probably heard of nitroglycerin? This is a compound that, like any number of celebrities I could name, is extremely unstable, and explodes onto the scene to make a very loud noise (for a very brief period).
If you’re more of a drinker, then you’ll be happy to know that nitrogen is responsible for the smaller bubbles and generally smoother, headier consistency of certain modern stouts and ales. Further on the intoxication scale, nitrogen is the main ingredient in alkaloid plants, responsible for morphine, cocaine, codeine, magic mushrooms, etc.
For you divers, there’s also nitrogen narcosis — basically, getting drunk on the stuff. Nitrous oxide gives pretty much the same exact effect (not that I’d know, of course. All of those balloons were for my second job as a clown). Underwater explorers and flyers alike also have to deal with nitrogen bubbles forming in the body, which commonly known as “the bends” and may be the most painful thing that a human being can experience…
For the morbid among us, nitrogen is responsible for that unmistakable smell of decay. The graphically-named “cadaverine” and “putrescine” are created during the process of breaking down amino acids that occurs during decay…but also gives that certain tang to bad breath, urine, semen, and vaginosis (so the next time you tell someone that they smell like something died in or on them, you may be rather unpleasantly scientifically accurate). The same goes for fish…
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