NITROGEN – AN ELIXIR OF LIFE

One cannot breathe pure nitrogen, hence the name (TR. Note: Nitrogen, in the German language, is also called Stickstoff which means "asphyxiating substance". This refers to the fact that one cannot breathe pure nitrogen.). Nevertheless nothing living could exist without nitrogen. Nitrogen is the motor of all biological growth. It is indispensable for all life functions.

There are two kinds of nitrogen: non-reactive nitrogen, which each of us breathes in and out with every breath since air consists up to 78 % of nitrogen. All other forms of nitrogen are reactive, among these are ammonia, nitrates, amino acids and proteins. Reactive nitrogen is scarce in nature as only a few species of bacteria have mastered the art of transforming atmospheric nitrogen into its reactive form.

The chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch developed the process by which atmospheric nitrogen, in a huge reaction chamber, is transformed into ammonia. This process has been employed since 09 September 1913. Ammonia is the most important form of reactive nitrogen – it is used to produce synthetic fertilizers, plastics and explosives. 09 September 1913 marks a turning point in the story of life and has changed the face of the earth: The tremendous increase of the world population to today’s over 7 billion people would not have been possible without the so called Haber-Bosch process.

Reactive nitrogen makes life possible, doubles harvests and has led to wars. Our exhibition tells its story and risks a glance into the future.