This section focuses on the periodicity of the representative elements. These are the elements where the electrons are entering the s and p orbitals. The representative elements occur in groups 1, 2, and 12–18. These elements are representative metals, metalloids, and nonmetals. The alkali metals (group 1) are very reactive, readily form ions with a charge of 1+ to form ionic compounds that are usually soluble in water, and react vigorously with water to form hydrogen gas and a basic solution of the metal hydroxide. The outermost electrons of the alkaline earth metals (group 2) are more difficult to remove than the outer electron of the alkali metals, leading to the group 2 metals being less reactive than those in group 1. These elements easily form compounds in which the metals exhibit an oxidation state of 2+. Zinc, cadmium, and mercury (group 12) commonly exhibit the group oxidation state of 2+ (although mercury also exhibits an oxidation state of 1+ in compounds that contain Aluminum, gallium, indium, and thallium (group 13) are easier to oxidize than is hydrogen. Aluminum, gallium, and indium occur with an oxidation state 3+ (however, thallium also commonly occurs as the Tl+ ion). Tin and lead form stable divalent cations and covalent compounds in which the metals exhibit the 4+-oxidation state.
Because of their chemical reactivity, it is necessary to produce the representative metals in their pure forms by reduction from naturally occurring compounds. Electrolysis is important in the production of sodium, potassium, and aluminum. Chemical reduction is the primary method for the isolation of magnesium, zinc, and tin. Similar procedures are important for the other representative metals.
The elements boron, silicon, germanium, arsenic, antimony, and tellurium separate the metals from the nonmetals in the periodic table. These elements, called metalloids or sometimes semimetals, exhibit properties characteristic of both metals and nonmetals. The structures of these elements are similar in many ways to those of nonmetals, but the elements are electrical semiconductors.
Nonmetals have structures that are very different from those of the metals, primarily because they have greater electronegativity and electrons that are more tightly bound to individual atoms. Most nonmetal oxides are acid anhydrides, meaning that they react with water to form acidic solutions. Molecular structures are common for most of the nonmetals, and several have multiple allotropes with varying physical properties.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and its chemistry is truly unique. Although it has some chemical reactivity that is similar to that of the alkali metals, hydrogen has many of the same chemical properties of a nonmetal with a relatively low electronegativity. It forms ionic hydrides with active metals, covalent compounds in which it has an oxidation state of 1− with less electronegative elements, and covalent compounds in which it has an oxidation state of 1+ with more electronegative nonmetals. It reacts explosively with oxygen, fluorine, and chlorine, less readily with bromine, and much less readily with iodine, sulfur, and nitrogen. Hydrogen reduces the oxides of metals with lower reduction potentials than chromium to form the metal and water. The hydrogen halides are all acidic when dissolved in water.
The usual method for the preparation of the carbonates of the alkali and alkaline earth metals is by reaction of an oxide or hydroxide with carbon dioxide. Other carbonates form by precipitation. Metal carbonates or hydrogen carbonates such as limestone (CaCO3), the antacid Tums (CaCO3), and baking soda (NaHCO3) are common examples. Carbonates and hydrogen carbonates decompose in the presence of acids and most decompose on heating.
Nitrogen exhibits oxidation states ranging from 3− to 5+. Because of the stability of the N≡N triple bond, it requires a great deal of energy to make compounds from molecular nitrogen. Active metals such as the alkali metals and alkaline earth metals can reduce nitrogen to form metal nitrides. Nitrogen oxides and nitrogen hydrides are also important substances.
Phosphorus (group 15) commonly exhibits oxidation states of 3− with active metals and of 3+ and 5+ with more electronegative nonmetals. The halogens and oxygen will oxidize phosphorus. The oxides are phosphorus(V) oxide, P4O10, and phosphorus(III) oxide, P4O6. The two common methods for preparing orthophosphoric acid, H3PO4, are either the reaction of a phosphate with sulfuric acid or the reaction of water with phosphorus(V) oxide. Orthophosphoric acid is a triprotic acid that forms three types of salts.
Oxygen is one of the most reactive elements. This reactivity, coupled with its abundance, makes the chemistry of oxygen very rich and well understood.
Compounds of the representative metals with oxygen exist in three categories (1) oxides, (2) peroxides and superoxides, and (3) hydroxides. Heating the corresponding hydroxides, nitrates, or carbonates is the most common method for producing oxides. Heating the metal or metal oxide in oxygen may lead to the formation of peroxides and superoxides. The soluble oxides dissolve in water to form solutions of hydroxides. Most metals oxides are base anhydrides and react with acids. The hydroxides of the representative metals react with acids in acid-base reactions to form salts and water. The hydroxides have many commercial uses.
All nonmetals except fluorine form multiple oxides. Nearly all of the nonmetal oxides are acid anhydrides. The acidity of oxyacids requires that the hydrogen atoms bond to the oxygen atoms in the molecule rather than to the other nonmetal atom. Generally, the strength of the oxyacid increases with the number of oxygen atoms bonded to the nonmetal atom and not to a hydrogen.
Sulfur (group 16) reacts with almost all metals and readily forms the sulfide ion, S2−, in which it has as oxidation state of 2−. Sulfur reacts with most nonmetals.
The halogens form halides with less electronegative elements. Halides of the metals vary from ionic to covalent; halides of nonmetals are covalent. Interhalogens form by the combination of two or more different halogens.
All of the representative metals react directly with elemental halogens or with solutions of the hydrohalic acids (HF, HCl, HBr, and HI) to produce representative metal halides. Other laboratory preparations involve the addition of aqueous hydrohalic acids to compounds that contain such basic anions, such as hydroxides, oxides, or carbonates.
The most significant property of the noble gases (group 18) is their inactivity. They occur in low concentrations in the atmosphere. They find uses as inert atmospheres, neon signs, and as coolants. The three heaviest noble gases react with fluorine to form fluorides. The xenon fluorides are the best characterized as the starting materials for a few other noble gas compounds.