Nitrous Oxide

Commonly known as laughing gas, nitrous, nitro, or NOS

N2O, one of several oxides of nitrogen, a colorless gas with pleasant, sweetish odor and taste, which when inhaled produces insensibility to pain preceded by mild hysteria, sometimes laughter.

Nitrous oxide was born 1772 from an English family his father Joseph Priestley who was a chemist, later on Humphry Davy who was also a chemist showed he had some physiological effects.

Joseph Priestley

What can it be used for?

Rocket Motors

Nitrous oxide can be used as an oxidizer in a rocket motor. This has advantages over other oxidisers in that it is not only non-toxic, also because of its stability at room temperature. As a secondary benefit it can be readily decomposed to form breathing air.

Internal Combustion Engine

In vehicle racing, nitrous oxide allows the engine to burn more fuel by providing more oxygen than air alone, resulting in a more powerful combustion. The gas itself is not flammable at a low pressure/temperature, but it delivers more oxygen than atmospheric air by breaking down at elevated temperatures. Therefore, it is often mixed with another fuel that is easier to deflagrate.

Aerosol Propellant

The gas is approved for use as a food additive (known as E942) specifically as an aerosol spray propellant. Its most common uses in this context are in aerosol whipped cream canisters, cooking sprays, and as an inert gas used to displace oxygen, to inhibit bacterial growth, when filling packages of potato chips and other similar snack foods.


The first devices used in dentistry to administer the gas, known as Nitrous oxide inhalers, were designed in a very simple way with the gas stored and breathed through a breathing bag made of rubber cloth, without a scavenger system and flow-meter, and with no addition of oxygen/air.


Nitrous oxide traps almost 300 times as much heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period. It also reacts with ozone in the stratosphere and depletes the ozone layer. Overexposure can cause B12 deficiency, bone marrow damage, brain damage, and reproductive effects. Nitrous oxide also helps form acid rain, it kills aquatic life when it gets into rivers, and strips the tops of trees of their bark. Also in old limestone buildings it can dissolve them because the acid rain is so strong.


The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (n.d.). Nitrous oxide (N2O) (chemical compound). Retrieved from

Nitrous oxide. (2014, May 04). Retrieved from

What effect do nitrogen oxides have on the environment? (n.d.). Retrieved from

Why is nitrous oxide bad for the environment? (n.d.). Retrieved from

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