Who Discovered Sodium?

••• topthailand/iStock/GettyImages

You add it to your favorite recipes and sprinkle it on top of fresh tomatoes at the table, but you may not think about the history of salt or NaCl. One of the main components of this seasoning is sodium or Na. Although salt was popular for centuries, the discovery of sodium only happened in 1807 because it is a highly reactive element that is hard to isolate.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Sir Humphry Davy, a British chemist, discovered sodium in 1807. He found the element by isolating it from caustic soda using electrolysis.

The Scientist Who Discovered Sodium

Sir Humphry Davy was able to discover sodium (Na) in the laboratory. In 1807, he used electrolysis to remove this element from melted caustic soda. Electrolysis is a process that uses electric currents to create chemical changes. Another name for caustic soda is sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Although many people were using salt in the 1800s, it was difficult to extract sodium from it because this element is active and reacts easily with other elements. Davy found it was a metal. Pure sodium can go up in flames if it comes in contact with water, so he had to make sure it was in a moisture-free environment.

Sodium is an alkali metal that is soft and flammable. In its pure form, it has a silver-white color. Most people are familiar with the compounds that include this element such as salt and baking soda. It is an essential element for animals because it is part of many body functions.

Why Discovering Sodium Was Important

You cannot find sodium on its own in nature because it is highly reactive and difficult to break apart from compounds, so the discovery of this element in the laboratory was crucial. It is one of the most common elements on the planet and is part of multiple reactions. Its discovery helped scientists uncover important processes ranging from how sodium ions create electrical signals in the body to regulating your pH level.

The Origin of the Name Sodium

The origin of sodium’s name comes from the English word soda. It is also linked to sodanum from Medieval Latin, which refers to a headache remedy. The symbol for sodium on the periodic table is Na and comes from the Latin word natrium, which means sodium carbonate. Natron is another reason why sodium has the symbol of Na. Natron dates back to ancient Egypt when it was a popular preservative mineral salt that came from dry lake beds.


About the Author

Lana Bandoim is a freelance writer and editor. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology and chemistry from Butler University. Her work has appeared on Forbes, Yahoo! News, Business Insider, Lifescript, Healthline and many other publications. She has been a judge for the Scholastic Writing Awards from the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. She has also been nominated for a Best Shortform Science Writing award by the Best Shortform Science Writing Project.