(English, soda; Medieval Latin, sodanum: a headache remedy) Long recognized in compounds, sodium was first isolated by Davy in 1807 by electrolysis of caustic soda.
Sodium is present in fair abundance in the sun and stars. The D lines of sodium are among the most prominent in the solar spectrum. Sodium is the fourth most abundant element on earth, comprising about 2.6% of the earth's crust; it is the most abundant of the alkali group of metals.
It is now obtained commercially by the electrolysis of absolutely dry fused sodium chloride. This method is much cheaper than that of electrolyzing sodium hydroxide, as was used several years ago.
The most common compound is sodium chloride (table salt), but it occurs in many other minerals, such as soda niter, cryolite, amphibole, zeolite, etc.
Sodium, like every reactive element, is never found free in nature. Sodium is a soft, bright, silvery metal which floats on water. Decomposition in water results in the evolution of hydrogen and the formation of the hydroxide. It may or may not ignite spontaneously on water, depending on the amount of oxide and metal exposed to the water. It normally does not ignite in air at temperatures below 115oC.
Metallic sodium is vital in the manufacture of esters and in the preparation of organic compounds. The metal may be used to improve the structure of certain alloys, descale metal, and purify molten metals.
An alloy of sodium with potassium, NaK, is an important heat transfer agent.
Sodium compounds are important to the paper, glass, soap, textile, petroleum, chemical, and metal industries. Soap is generally a sodium salt of certain fatty acids. The importance of common salt to animal nutrition has been recognized since prehistoric times.
Among the many compounds that are of the greatest industrial importance are common salt (NaCl), soda ash (Na2CO3), baking soda (NaHCO3), caustic soda (NaOH), Chile saltpeter (NaNO3), di- and tri-sodium phosphates, sodium thiosulfate (hypo, Na2S2O3 . 5H2O), and borax (Na2B4O7 . 10H2O).
Thirteen isotopes of sodium are recognized.
Metallic sodium is priced at about 15 to 20 cents/lb in quantity. Reagent grade (ACS) sodium in January 1990 cost about $35/lb. On a volume basis, it is the cheapest of all metals.
Sodium metal should be handled with great care. It cannot be maintained in an inert atmosphere and contact with water and other substances with which sodium reacts should be avoided.