A general starrkingschool.netistrystarrkingschool.netTextmaporganized around the textbookstarrkingschool.netistry: Principles, Patterns, and Applicationsby Bruce A. Averill


Learning Objectives

To understand the trends in properties and reactivity of the group 16 elements: the chalcogens.

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The chalcogens are the first group in the p block to have no stable metallic elements. All isotopes of polonium (Po), the only metal in group 16, are radioactive, and only one element in the group, tellurium (Te), can even be described as a semimetal. As in groups 14 and 15, the lightest element of group 16, oxygen, is found in nature as the free element.

Of the group 16 elements, only sulfur was known in ancient times; the others were not discovered until the late 18th and 19th centuries. Sulfur is frequently found as yellow crystalline deposits of essentially pure S8 in areas of intense volcanic activity or around hot springs. As early as the 15th century BC, sulfur was used as a fumigant in Homeric Greece because, when burned, it produces SO2 fumes that are toxic to most organisms, including vermin hiding in the walls and under the floors of houses. Hence references to sulfur are common in ancient literature, frequently in the context of religious purification. In fact, the association of sulfur with the divine was so pervasive that the prefixes thio- (meaning “sulfur”) and theo- (meaning “god”) have the same root in ancient Greek. Though used primarily in the production of sulfuric acid, sulfur is also used to manufacture gunpowder and as a cross-linking agent for rubber, which enables rubber to hold its shape but retain its flexibility.

Group 16 is the first group in the p block with no stable metallic elements.

Oxygen was not discovered until 1771, when the Swedish pharmacist Carl Wilhelm Scheele found that heating compounds such as KNO3, Ag2CO3, and HgO produced a colorless, odorless gas that supported combustion better than air. The results were not published immediately, however, so Scheele’s work remained unknown until 1777. Unfortunately, this was nearly two years after a paper by the English starrkingschool.netist Joseph Priestley had been published, describing the isolation of the same gas by using a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s rays on a sample of HgO. Oxygen is used primarily in the steel industry during the conversion of crude iron to steel using the Bessemer process. Another important industrial use of oxygen is in the production of TiO2, which is commonly used as a white pigment in paints, paper, and plastics.

Figure (PageIndex1): A crystalline sulfur deposit. This sulfur deposit is located around a volcanic vent in Kilauea Crater, Hawaii.

Tellurium was discovered accidentally in 1782 by the Austrian starrkingschool.netist Franz Joseph Müller von Reichenstein, the chief surveyor of mines in Transylvania who was also responsible for the analysis of ore samples. The silvery-white metal had the same density as antimony but very different properties. Because it was difficult to analyze, Müller called it metallum problematicum (meaning “difficult metal”). The name tellurium (from the Latin tellus, meaning “earth”) was coined by another Austrian starrkingschool.netist, Martin Klaproth, who demonstrated in 1798 that Müller’s “difficult metal” was actually a new element. Tellurium is used to color glass and ceramics, in the manufacture of blasting caps, and in thermoelectric devices.

Jöns Jakob Berzelius (1779–1848)

Berzelius was born into a well-educated Swedish family, but both parents died when he was young. He studied medicine at the University of Uppsala, where his experiments with electroshock therapy caused his interests to turn to electrostarrkingschool.netistry. Berzelius devised the system of starrkingschool.netical notation that we use today. In addition, he discovered six elements (cerium, thorium, selenium, silicon, titanium, and zirconium).

api/deki/files/16918/pyrite.jpg?revision=1" />Pyrite (FeS2). Because of its lustrous golden yellow cubic crystals, FeS2 is sometimes mistaken for gold, giving rise to its common name “fool’s gold.” Real gold, however, is much denser than FeS2, and gold is soft and malleable rather than hard and brittle.

Because selenium and tellurium are starrkingschool.netically similar to sulfur, they are usually found as minor contaminants in metal sulfide ores and are typically recovered as by-products. Even so, they are as abundant in Earth’s crust as silver, palladium, and gold. One of the best sources of selenium and tellurium is the “slime” deposited during the electrolytic purification of copper. Both of these elements are notorious for the vile odors of many of their compounds. For example, when the body absorbs even trace amounts of tellurium, dimethyltellurium <(CH3)2Te> is produced and slowly released in the breath and perspiration, resulting in an intense garlic-like smell that is commonly called “tellurium breath.”

With their ns2np4 electron configurations, the chalcogens are two electrons short of a filled valence shell. Thus in reactions with metals, they tend to acquire two additional electrons to form compounds in the −2 oxidation state. This tendency is greatest for oxygen, the chalcogen with the highest electronegativity. The heavier, less electronegative chalcogens can lose either four np electrons or four np and two ns electrons to form compounds in the +4 and +6 oxidation state, respectively, as shown in Table Figure (PageIndex1). As with the other groups, the lightest member in the group, in this case oxygen, differs greatly from the others in size, ionization energy, electronegativity, and electron affinity, so its starrkingschool.netistry is unique. Also as in the other groups, the second and third members (sulfur and selenium) have similar properties because of shielding effects. Only polonium is metallic, forming either the hydrated Po2+ or Po4+ ion in aqueous solution, depending on conditions.

Table (PageIndex1): Selected Properties of the Group 16 Elements PropertyOxygenSulfurSeleniumTelluriumPolonium *The configuration shown does not include filled d and f subshells. †The values cited for the hexacations are for six-coordinate ions and are only estimated values.
atomic mass (amu) 16.00 32.07 78.96 127.60 209
atomic number 8 16 34 52 84
atomic radius (pm) 48 88 103 123 135
atomic symbol O S Se Te Po
density (g/cm3) at 25°C 1.31 (g/L) 2.07 4.81 6.24 9.20
electron affinity (kJ/mol) −141 −200 −195 −190 −180
electronegativity 3.4 2.6 2.6 2.1 2.0
first ionization energy (kJ/mol) 1314 1000 941 869 812
ionic radius (pm)† 140 (−2) 184 (−2), 29 (+6) 198 (−2), 42 (+6) 221 (−2), 56 (+6) 230 (−2), 97 (+4)
melting point/boiling point (°C) −219/−183 115/445 221/685 450/988 254/962
normal oxidation state(s) −2 +6, +4, −2 +6, +4, −2 +6, +4, −2 +2 (+4)
product of reaction with H2 H2O H2S H2Se none none
product of reaction with N2 NO, NO2 none none none none
product of reaction with O2 SO2 SeO2 TeO2 PoO2
product of reaction with X2 O2F2 SF6, S2Cl2, S2Br2 SeF6, SeX4 TeF6, TeX4 PoF4, PoCl2, PoBr2
standard reduction potential (E°, V) (E0 → H2E in acidic solution) +1.23 +0.14 −0.40 −0.79 −1.00
type of oxide acidic acidic amphoteric basic
valence electron configuration* 2s22p4 3s23p4 4s24p4 5s25p4 6s26p4

Reactions and Compounds of Oxygen

As in groups 14 and 15, the lightest group 16 member has the greatest tendency to form multiple bonds. Thus elemental oxygen is found in nature as a diatomic gas that contains a net double bond: O=O. As with nitrogen, electrostatic repulsion between lone pairs of electrons on adjacent atoms prevents oxygen from forming stable catenated compounds. In fact, except for O2, all compounds that contain O–O bonds are potentially explosive. Ozone, peroxides, and superoxides are all potentially dangerous in pure form. Ozone (O3), one of the most powerful oxidants known, is used to purify drinking water because it does not produce the characteristic taste associated with chlorinated water. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is so thermodynamically unstable that it has a tendency to undergo explosive decomposition when impure:

<2H_2O_2(l) ightarrow 2H_2O_(l) + O_2(g) ;;; ΔG^o = −119; kJ/mol label1>

As in groups 14 and 15, the lightest element in group 16 has the greatest tendency to form multiple bonds.

Despite the strength of the O=O bond ((D_mathrmO_2) = 494 kJ/mol), (O_2) is extremely reactive, reacting directly with nearly all other elements except the noble gases. Some properties of O2 and related species, such as the peroxide and superoxide ions, are in Table (PageIndex2). With few exceptions, the starrkingschool.netistry of oxygen is restricted to negative oxidation states because of its high electronegativity (χ = 3.4). Unlike the other chalcogens, oxygen does not form compounds in the +4 or +6 oxidation state. Oxygen is second only to fluorine in its ability to stabilize high oxidation states of metals in both ionic and covalent compounds. For example, AgO is a stable solid that contains silver in the unusual Ag(II) state, whereas OsO4 is a volatile solid that contains Os(VIII). Because oxygen is so electronegative, the O–H bond is highly polar, creating a large bond dipole moment that makes hydrogen bonding much more important for compounds of oxygen than for similar compounds of the other chalcogens.

Table (PageIndex2): Some Properties of O2 and Related Diatomic Speciens SpeciesBond OrderNumber of Unpaired e−O–O Distance (pm)* *Source of data: Lauri Vaska, “Dioxygen-Metal Complexes: Toward a Unified View,” Accounts of starrkingschool.netical Research 9 (1976): 175.
O2+ 2.5 1 112
O2 2 2 121
O2− 1.5 1 133
O22− 1 0 149

Metal oxides are usually basic, and nonmetal oxides are acidic, whereas oxides of elements that lie on or near the diagonal band of semimetals are generally amphoteric. A few oxides, such as CO and PbO2, are neutral and do not react with water, aqueous acid, or aqueous base. Nonmetal oxides are typically covalent compounds in which the bonds between oxygen and the nonmetal are polarized (Eδ+–Oδ−). Consequently, a lone pair of electrons on a water molecule can attack the partially positively charged E atom to eventually form an oxoacid. An example is reacting sulfur trioxide with water to form sulfuric acid:

The oxides of the semimetals and of elements such as Al that lie near the metal/nonmetal dividing line are amphoteric, as we expect:

Oxides of metals tend to be basic, oxides of nonmetals tend to be acidic, and oxides of elements in or near the diagonal band of semimetals are generally amphoteric.

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Exercise (PageIndex2)

Predict the product(s) of each reaction and write a balanced starrkingschool.netical equation for each reaction.

SiO2(s) + H+(aq) → NO(g) + O2(g) → SO3(g) + H2O(l) → H2O2(aq) + I–(aq) →


SiO2(s) + H+(aq) → no reaction 2NO(g) + O2(g) → 2NO2(g) SO3(g) + H2O(l) → H2SO4(aq) H2O2(aq) + 2I−(aq) → I2(aq) + 2OH−(aq)