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The Secret Life of Cyanide: From Gold Extraction to Pest Control

The Secret Life of Cyanide: Understanding CN-

Cyanide is a chemical compound that has proven to be an essential component in many industrial and medicinal uses in the modern world, despite its notoriety in being toxic at high concentrations. Here, we will explore the molecular structure of one of the most common cyndiae known as CN-, give attention to its uses, bonding, and properties, while also discussing the dangerous side of cyanide.

Valence Electrons Calculation

Before we delve into the molecular structure of cyanide, we must first ascertain the number of valence electrons each atom contains. The nitrogen (N) atom has five valence electrons, while the carbon (C) atom has four valence electrons.

However, since cyanide has a negative charge, we incorporate an additional electron to give us a total of 10 valence electrons.

Central Element Selection

The next step is to determine the central atom. Due to nitrogen’s higher electronegativity value compared to carbon, we can conclude that it is the atom that is more likely to form a negative anion.

Hence, nitrogen, with its higher energy level, becomes the central atom.

Bonding Between Elements

Now that we have selected the central atom, we must discuss the bonding that occurs between the nitrogen and carbon atoms. A triple bond between the carbon and nitrogen will form.

Therefore, we have an arrangement where one carbon atom is in a direct covalent bond with one nitrogen atom.

Octet Rule

An important factor to consider in the molecular structure of an atom is the octet rule. According to the rule, atoms form bonds to attain eight valence electrons in their outermost shell.

In cyanide, this molecular arrangement for the central atom nitrogen results in a total of eight electrons, filling up its outermost shell. The remaining two electrons lie on the carbon atom.

Formal Charges

We can use formal charges to evaluate electron distribution within a molecule. In a cyanide ion, nitrogen has a formal charge of -1, and the carbon atom of +1.

This formation implies that the nitrogen atom possesses more electrons than it typically would when sharing electrons. Conversely, the carbon atom will be less electronegative.

This bonding formation is typical for a tetravalent carbon as it allows the carbon atom to achieve a stable energetic shell.

Lone Pairs

Lone pairs are electron pairs located on one single atom in a molecule. In cyanide, there are no lone pairs.

Molecular Geometry

Molecular geometry pertains to the three-dimensional structural arrangement of atoms in a molecule. In this case, the cyanide ion has a linear geometry due to the triple bond involving carbon and nitrogen.


Hybridization is the process by which isolated atomic orbitals blend to form a new hybrid orbital that better explains the particular bonding properties of a molecule. Cyanide is an sp hybrid due to its linear molecular geometry.


Resonance occurs when a molecule can be depicted through two or more Lewis structures can contribute to the overall molecular arrangement. This phenomenon is evidenced in the CN- ion, where a combination of two contributing Lewis structures seals ion stability.

Polar/Nonpolar Nature

The cyanide ion is polar in nature due to the difference in electronegativity between carbon and nitrogen atoms. The nitrogen atom tends to pull electron density and forms a partial negative charge, while carbon obtains a partial positive charge.

Bond Angle

The bond angle between the cyanide molecule’s carbon and nitrogen atoms is 180 degrees since it is a linear structure.


Cyanide has many industrial and medicinal uses. Sodium Cyanide is used mainly in gold processing, whereas potassium cyanide has primarily been used in synthesizing organic compounds.

Cyanide is also used in pest control and as an industrial chemical agent in coatings, photosensitive chemicals, and dyes. Additionally, a cyanide antidotal kit is carried by firefighters to counteract cyanide exposure in smoke inhalation incidents.

Cyanide Compound

The dangers associated with the compounds of cyanide have been well documented. Cyanide poisoning can result in asphyxia, liver and kidney failures, and eventually lead to death.

Cyanide can be found in plants, microorganisms, and even low concentrations of human waste. Cyanide also poses the risk of accidents at chemical plants and other such facilities.

In addition, when acid is introduced to cyanide, it can form hydrogen cyanide gas, which is just as dangerous. In conclusion, understanding the molecular structure of cyanide is crucial in determining how the compound behaves and interacts with its environment.

While cyanide has proven useful in many industrial and medicinal applications, its dangers remain prevalent but can be controlled through strict handling procedures. Research and innovative applications can continue to be produced if cyanide-based compounds can be further researched to increase understanding and safety while maintaining efficacy.

The Many and Varied Applications of Cyanide

Cyanide is a chemical compound with many inherent characteristics that make it invaluable in many industrial and medicinal processes. It is an extremely versatile chemical, and it has many uses in various industrial sectors such as the paper, textiles, plastics, and photographic industries.

It is also a crucial component of metallurgy and plays a significant role in gold extraction. Additionally, it is utilized in various forms as an insecticide and pest control agent.

In this article, we will explore the various applications of cyanide and discuss its historical usage in World War II and Iran-Iraq war.

Paper Industry

The paper industry is one of the oldest industrial sectors globally, and cyanide has found use in its processes. One of the significant ways in which cyanide is used within the paper industry is through its role as a bleaching agent.

Cyanide compounds can react with water to form hypochlorous acid, which is a potent bleaching agent and is used to remove color from paper pulp. In addition to its role as a bleaching agent, cyanide can also be used to inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause spoilage, ensuring the cleanliness and quality of the final product.

Textile Industry

The textile industry is another industrial sector that has relied heavily on cyanide’s ability to remove color. Cyanide is used in textile processing to remove dye from wool and silk.

It is also used as an agent in the scouring process, which involves the stripping of natural oil and impurities from the fiber. In some instances, cyanide is also used in the dyeing process, where it acts as a wetting agent to help the dye penetrate materials.

Plastics Industry

Cyanide is a vital component in the manufacturing of plastics. It is used to stabilize plastic materials during the polymerization process.

This means that it can be used to stabilize and increase the shelf-life of plastic products, ensuring their longevity.


Photography is another industrial sector that depends on cyanide’s unique properties. Cyanide is primarily used in photographic processing, where it acts as a photographic reducer.

This means that cyanide is used to reduce exposed silver salts into metallic silver in the developing process, which results in a visible image on photographic paper.


Cyanide is widely used in the metallurgy industry. One of its primary uses is as a metal cleanser.

For instance, it is used to remove surface impurities from metal, known as casting. Cyanide is also used in the electroplating process, where it acts as the electrolyte in the electroplating tank.

In this process, the metallic object is immersed in a cyanide bath, and an electric current prods the deposition of metal in the solution onto the surface of the metal object.

Gold Extraction

Cyanide plays a vital role in the extraction of gold from ores. This process is called the cyanide process or the carbon-in-pulp method.

Cyanide acts as a leaching agent, which means it dissolves the gold from the ore. This process enables the separation of the gold from the other minerals in the ore, and it is widely used in the extraction of gold.

It is a simple and effective process, and it allows for the recovery of gold from otherwise low-grade ores.

Pest Control

Cyanide is also used in pest control. It acts as an insecticide, which means that it kills insects.

Cyanide-based insecticides are especially effective against soft-bodied pests, such as mites, aphids, and scale insects, which are difficult to eliminate with other types of insecticides. Cyanide-based compounds are also used for rat control, although this use has been disapproved of due to the associated dangers.



Cyanide has had a long and complicated history, particularly in World War II and the Iran-Iraq war. During the Nazi occupation of Europe, the infamous Zyklon B cyanide-based pesticide was used as the primary method of killing in the gas chambers of concentration camps.

In the Iran-Iraq war, cyanide was used by both sides as a chemical weapon. Cyanide was used in the form of hydrogen cyanide gas, an extremely toxic chemical that can cause respiratory failure and death.

In conclusion, cyanide is an incredibly useful chemical that has many industrial and medicinal applications. Its unique properties make it indispensable in many sectors such as the paper, textiles, plastics, and photographic industries.

It plays a vital role in metallurgy and gold extraction, as well as pest control. While cyanide has a history of misuse and abuse, research and innovative applications can continue to be produced if the safety and proper handling of cyanide-based compounds are maintained.

In conclusion, cyanide is a versatile chemical that has many important uses in various industrial and medicinal sectors. It is used as a bleaching agent in the paper industry, in the processing of textiles, the manufacturing of plastics, and in the photographic and metallurgy industries.

Cyanide is also vital in gold extraction and as a pest control agent, albeit not without risks. Past misuse of cyanide in WW-II concentration camps and the Iran-Iraq war also emphasizes the importance of responsible handling.

Consequently, proper procedures while dealing with cyanide-based compounds and adherence to safety guidelines are essential, ensuring the benefits that this chemical compound provides while minimizing its potential risks.


Q: What is cyanide? A: Cyanide is a chemical compound comprising a carbon atom and a nitrogen atom that can be found naturally or produced synthetically.

Q: What is cyanide used for in the paper industry? A: Cyanide is used as a bleaching agent to remove color from paper pulp while inhibiting the growth of bacteria responsible for spoilage.

Q: What role does cyanide play in the gold extraction process? A: In gold extraction, cyanide acts as a leaching agent, dissolving gold from the ore, and allowing its separation from other minerals in the ore.

Q: Is there a risk involved with using cyanide for pest control? A: Cyanide can be used for pest control, but it has associated risks, including potential danger to people and the environment.

Q: Why is it essential to handle cyanide properly? A: Cyanide is a potent chemical compound and should be handled with proper care because it can pose serious risks to human life and the environment if not handled appropriately.

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