As an element, phosphorus exists in two major forms—white phosphorus and red phosphorus—but because it is highly reactive, phosphorus is never found as a free element on Earth.

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The vast majority of phosphorus compounds mined are consumed as fertilisers. Phosphate is needed to replace the phosphorus that plants remove from the soil, and its annual demand is rising nearly twice as fast as the growth of the human population.

The predominant source of phosphorus in modern times is phosphate rock (as opposed to the guano that preceded it).


Protons and Neutrons in Phosphorus

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Phosphorus is a chemical element with atomic number 15 which means there are 15 protons in its nucleus. Total number of protons in the nucleus is called the atomic number of the atom and is given the symbol Z. The total electrical charge of the nucleus is therefore +Ze, where e (elementary charge) equals to 1,602 x 10-19 coulombs.

The total number of neutrons in the nucleus of an atom is called the neutron number of the atom and is given the symbol N. Neutron number plus atomic number equals atomic mass number: N+Z=A. The difference between the neutron number and the atomic number is known as the neutron excess: D = N – Z = A – 2Z.

For stable elements, there is usually a variety of stable isotopes. Isotopes are nuclides that have the same atomic number and are therefore the same element, but differ in the number of neutrons. Mass numbers of typical isotopes of Phosphorus are 31.

Main Isotopes of Phosphorus

23 isotopes of phosphorus are known, ranging from 25P to 47P. Only 31P is stable and is therefore present at 100% abundance.

Phosphorus-31 is composed of 15 protons, 16 neutrons, and 15 electrons. The half-integer nuclear spin and high abundance of 31P make phosphorus-31 NMR spectroscopy a very useful analytical tool in studies of phosphorus-containing samples.

Phosphorus-32 is composed of 15 protons, 17 neutrons, and 15 electrons. 32P, a beta-emitter (1.71 MeV) with a half-life of 14.3 days, which is used routinely in life-science laboratories, primarily to produce radiolabeled DNA and RNA probes.

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Phosphorus-33 is composed of 15 protons, 18 neutrons, and 15 electrons. 33P, a beta-emitter (0.25 MeV) with a half-life of 25.4 days. It is used in life-science laboratories in applications in which lower energy beta emissions are advantageous such as DNA sequencing.