Get 10 Facts About the Element Sodium

It's a Lot More Than Just Salt

Coarse salt, close-up

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Sodium is an abundant element that's essential for human nutrition and important for many chemical processes. Here are 10 facts about sodium.

  1. Sodium is a silvery-white metal belonging to Group 1 of the Periodic Table, which is the alkali metals group.
  2. Sodium is highly reactive. The pure metal is stored in oil or kerosene because it spontaneously ignites in water. Sodium metal also floats on water.
  3. At room temperature, sodium metal is soft enough that you can cut it with a butter knife.
  4. Sodium is an essential element in animal nutrition. In humans, sodium is important for maintaining fluid balance in the cells and throughout the body, while the electric potential maintained by sodium ions is critical for nerve function.
  5. Sodium and its compounds are used for food preservation, for cooling nuclear reactors, in sodium vapor lamps, for purifying and refining other elements and compounds, and as a desiccant.
  6. There is only one stable isotope of sodium: 23Na.
  7. The symbol for sodium is Na, which comes from the Latin natrium or Arabic natrun or a similar-sounding Egyptian word, all referring to soda or sodium carbonate.
  8. Sodium is an abundant element. It's found in the sun and many other stars. It is the sixth most abundant element on Earth, comprising about 2.6% of the earth's crust. It is the most abundant alkali metal.
  9. Although it's too reactive to occur in pure elemental form, it is found in many minerals, including halite, cryolite, soda niter, zeolite, amphibole, and sodalite. The most common sodium mineral is halite or sodium chloride salt.
  10. Sodium was first commercially produced by thermal reduction of sodium carbonate with carbon at 1,100 degrees Celcius, in the Deville process. Pure sodium may be obtained by electrolysis of molten sodium chloride. It may also be produced by the thermal decomposition of sodium azide.