Bromine: the essentials

Bromine is the only liquid nonmetallic element. It is a member of the halogen group. It is a heavy, volatile, mobile, dangerous reddish-brown liquid. The red vapour has a strong unpleasant odour and the vapour irritates the eyes and throat. It is a bleaching. When spilled on the skin it produces painful sores. It is a serious health hazard, and maximum safety precautions should be taken when handling it.

Science and Ink cartoon for bromine
Cartoon by Nick D Kim ([Science and Ink], used by permission).

Bromine: historical information

Bromine was discovered by Antoine-J. Balard in 1826 at France. Origin of name: from the Greek word "bromos" meaning "stench".

Bromine was not prepared in quantity until 1860 but compounds of bromine were of some considerable importance well before it was recognised as an element. Long ago an excretion from a particular kind of mussel was used to make a purple dye called "Tyrian purple". It is now known that a key compound in this process is an organobromine compund.

It seems that an undergraduate chemist called Carl Löwig studying at Heidelberg presented one of his lecturers, Leopold Gmelin, with a sample of bromine that he had made over the summer holidays. Löwig's exams interrupted his studies long enough to allow a report from Antoine-Jérôme Balard to take precedence in 1826.

Bromine around us Read more »

Bromine may be an essential trace element for red algae and possibly mammals. It is found in the mollusc pigment "royal purple", although its role is not understood. Excessive bromide intake leads to depression and of weight loss.

Bromine is never found as the free element, but always as the bromide, Br-. The usual source is some natural brines and there are few minerals consisting largely of bromide.

Abundances for bromine in a number of different environments. More abundance data »
Location ppb by weight ppb by atoms Links
Universe 7 0.1 Chemical elements abundance by weight in the universe on a miniature periodic table spark table
Crustal rocks 3000 780 Chemical elements abundance by weight in the earth's crust on a miniature periodic table spark table
Human 2900 ppb by weight 230 atoms relative to C = 1000000 Chemical elements abundance by weight in humans on a miniature periodic table spark table

Physical properties Read more »

Heat properties Read more »

Crystal structure Read more »

The solid state structure of bromine is: orthorhombic.

Bromine: orbital properties Read more »

Bromine atoms have 35 electrons and the shell structure is The ground state electronic configuration of neutral Bromine is [Ar].3d10.4s2.4p5 and the term symbol of Bromine is 2P3/2.


Isolation: bromine is available commercially so it is not normally necessary to make it in the laboratory. Bromine also occurs in seawater as the sodium salt but in much smaller quantities than chloride. It is recovered commercially through the treatment of seawater with chlorine gas and flushing through with air. In this treatment, bromide is oxidized to bromine by the chlorine gas. The principle of oxidation of bromide to bromine is shown by the addition of a little chlorine water to aqueous solutions of bromide. These become brown as elemental bromine forms.

2Br- + Cl2 → 2Cl- + Br2

Small amounts of bromine can also be made through the reaction of solid sodium bromide, NaBr, with concentrated sulphuric acid, H2SO4. The first stage is formation of HBr, which is a gas, but under the reaction conditions some of the HBr is oxidized by further H2SO4 to form bromine and sulphur dioxide. This reaction does not work with the corresponding chlorides and fluorides.

NaBr (s) + H2SO4 (l) → HBr (g) + NaHSO4 (s)

2HBr (g) + H2SO4 (l) → Br2 (g) + SO2 (g) + 2H2O (l)

Bromine isotopes Read more »

Both Bromine isotopes are used in nuclear medicine. Br-81 is used for the production of the radioisotope Kr-81m which is used for diagnostics. Br-79 can be used for the cyclotron production of Kr-77 which decays to the radioisotope Br-77 although the most common production route for Br-77 is via Se-77. Br-77 has been suggested for radiotherapy because of it electron capture decay and ease of labeling.

Table. Stables isotopes of bromine.
Isotope Mass
(atom %)
spin (I)
moment (μ/μN)
79Br 78.9183361 (26) 50.69 (7) 3/2 2.106399
81Br 80.916289 (6) 49.31 (7) 3/2 2.270560

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