Molecule of the Week

Nitrous oxide

January 14, 2013

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is called “laughing gas” because it has a euphoric effect when inhaled. It has a mildly sweet odor and taste. N2O was first synthesized by J. Priestley in 1772. In 1800, H. Davy showed that it is an analgesic; its use as a recreational drug began around the same time. N2O was first used as a surgical anesthetic in 1844, and it is still in use today. It is also used as a fuel additive and aerosol propellant.

Only ≈0.3 ppm of N2O is present in the Earth’s atmosphere, but it is such a strong greenhouse gas that it ranks fourth behind water, CO2, and methane as a climate change contributor. N2O should not be confused with nitric oxide (NO) or nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

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