Oxygen is of great importance in the chemical and the iron and steel industries. Its major use is in steel production, for example in the Bessemer process. The oxyacetylene torch is another important industrial application. Oxygen is utilized in medicine in the treatment of respiratory diseases and is mixed with other gases for respiration in submarines, high-flying aircraft, and spacecraft. Liquid oxygen is used as an oxidizer in the fuel systems of large rockets.
Oxygen was formerly the official standard for the atomic weights of elements. The chemists used natural oxygen, a mixture of three isotopes, to which the value of 16 was assigned while the physicists assigned the value of 16 specifically to the oxygen isotope 16. In 1961 carbon-12 replaced oxygen as the standard.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.