Anda di halaman 1dari 8


Observable Properties of Acids and Alkalis

The concepts of acids and bases are of the utmost importance in chemistry. From an
experimental point of view ACIDS are those solutions that turn blue-litmus red and
ALKALIS those which turn red-litmus blue. Usually the substances that dissolves in
water to give acid solutions are called acids too. Some features about acids and alkalis
are shown in the following chart.


• Turn blue-litmus RED • Turn red-litmus BLUE

• Have a sour taste • Have a soapy touch
• Make carbonate solutions bubble • Make ammonium salts solutions
(set carbon dioxide free) smell (set ammonia free)
• Have low pH (below 7) • Have high pH (above 7)
• Are corrosive (attack many • Are corrosive (attack a few
metals and skin) metals and skin)

When acids and alkalis are mixed in adequate proportions, they NEUTRALISE each
other. A NEUTRAL solution is formed that will:

 Not change the colour of either litmus

 Not have a sour taste or a soapy touch (generally)
 Not make carbonate solutions bubble or ammonium salts solutions smell
 Not be corrosive (although some metals are quite sensitive to water)
 Have a pH value of 7

What is pH?

pH is the way chemists compare acidity and alkalinity (also called basicity) of aqueous
solutions. Strictly speaking it is defined for dilute and aqueous solutions. The pH scale
ranges from zero (strongly acid solutions) to fourteen (strongly basic solutions). Lemon
juice and vinegar are ACID. Soap and oven cleaners are ALKALINE or BASIC.
Solutions that show a pH of seven are called NEUTRAL: they are neither acid nor
basic. Common salt solutions or alcohol solutions are neutral.

The Determination of pH Values

How can we assess the pH value of a solution?
Many substances change their colours or their shades according to the pH number.
Litmus is one of these substances, (one of the first substances known that show this
behaviour). These substances are called indicators. For example, adding a few drops of
phenolphthalein indicator to an aqueous solution will not change it if pH is below 8. But
if it is just above (say 8.5) the solution will turn magenta (dark pink). Brilliant yellow
will be yellow if pH is below 12 and red if pH is above 12.
To determine pH values for different materials we can also use Universal Indicator
solution or Universal Indicator paper strip (usually called pH paper). It is a strip of
paper coloured with a mixture of indicators that will show different colours according to
the pH of the solution it is dipped into. (The following scale is just approximate; shades
change according to the commercial brands)

Red Orange Yellow Greenish Yellowish Greenish Navy blue

yellow green blue
Strongly Medium Weakly Neutral Weakly Medium Strongly
acid acid acid basic basic basic
0 to 2 3-4 5-6 7 8-9 10 - 11 12 to 14

A more accurate procedure is to use pH-meters. pH-meters are

electronic devises that have a pH sensitive glass tip called the
glass electrode. If we dip it into a solution, a p.d. (potential
difference or voltage) will be established between the inner and
outer sides of the glass electrode. This p.d. depends on the pH of
the solution that is being tested and its value in pH units are
shown on the display.

The Behaviour of Solutions Towards Electricity

If two wires connected to the ends of a battery are dipped in a solution two things can
happen: either the solution is a good or a poor conductor. We can use a bulb or an
ammeter to test if a current is flowing or not. If a solution is a good conductor the
substance dissolved and the solution itself are called electrolytes. Otherwise, if the
solution is not a good conductor both are called non-electrolytes. Solutions of acids,
alkalis and salts are all electrolytes. Alcohol, acetone and glucose solutions are non-

Around 1830 Michael Faraday had suggested that these conducting properties were
caused by charged particles in the solution but it was not until 1884 that Svante
Arrhenius established a complete theory about the formation of charged particles in
solutions. He called these particles ions. He named the negative particles cations and
the positive anions. This was part of his Ph.D. thesis and it was hardly considered an
acceptable work. He got just a 4 but some 20 years later he was awarded the Nobel
Prize for it. He could explain for the first time what acids and alkalis were and make the
neutralisation process clear.

The Arrhenius Theory of Acids and Bases

Let us have a first approach to Arrhenius’ Theory of acids and bases.

• Acids are substances which produce hydrogen (H+) ions when dissolved in
water. An acid solution is formed mainly when certain substances are dissolved
in water. These substances are covalent compounds formed by a highly
electronegative non metal, hydrogen and most of the times oxygen. As they
dissolve, the water molecules “capture” the relatively positive H atom and the
molecule splits into a hydrated hydrogen ion H + (frequently called “a proton”)
and an anion.
These substances are mainly some non metal hydrides, oxoacids and non metal
oxides. For example when molecular hydrogen chloride is dissolved in an
organic solvent, the solution formed does not conduct an electric current -
indicating the absence of free-moving ions. By contrast, when this gas is
dissolved in water, the aqueous solution of hydrochloric acid formed conducts
an electric current strongly, because this 'strong' acid is completely dissociated.

• Some common acids are: hydrochloric acid, sulphuric acid, nitric acid, ethanoic
acid, phosphoric acid.

• Alkalis are substances which form hydroxide (OH-) ions when dissolved in
water. An alkaline solution will be formed when a hydroxide (metal – oxygen –
hydrogen) ionic compound is dissolved in water. As they dissolve the OH-
anions are separated from the crystal lattice.(These “hydro-oxides” are ionic and
the water molecules just hydrate the pre-existing OH- anions - called hydroxide
anions - and the metal counter ion). When sodium hydroxide is dissolved in
water, the aqueous solution formed conducts an electric current strongly,
because this 'strong' base is completely dissociated. There is a very important
alkali that is not a metal hydroxide: ammonia NH3. This case is to be
discussed later.

• Some common alkalis are sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, calcium

hydroxide, ammonia. (The alkali metals’ oxides dissolve in water reacting to
form the hydroxide)

• Neutralization is the reaction between an acid and a base to form a salt and
water. The salt will be an oxo or a halo salt depending on the type of acid being
used. Zinc metal also neutralises an acid as it is attacked by them, but water is
not formed in this process. This kind of reaction, although apparently close to
the zinc oxide reaction, is intrinsically of a different nature (red – ox). Hence,
metals are not bases.

• A base is anything that will neutralise an acid to form water and a salt.
From this point of view, alkalis are soluble bases. Insoluble metal oxides as
zinc oxide will neutralise an acid forming water and a zinc salt (chloride,
sulphate etc.). Insoluble metal oxides or hydroxides are bases but not alkalis

• Some common bases are calcium or magnesium carbonates, magnesium oxide,

aluminium oxide, zinc oxide and copper (II) oxide.
• Salts are ionic compounds which contain ions other than hydrogen (H+),
hydroxide (OH-), or oxide (O2-). As H+ and OH-or ( O=) react with each other,
the “expectator” ions (the counter ions of both the acid and the base) will remain
in solution, and when evaporated to dryness a crystalline compound called a salt
will be obtained

Limitations of the Theory

Hydrochloric acid is neutralised by both sodium hydroxide solution and ammonia


In both cases, you get a colourless solution which you can crystallise to get a white salt
- either sodium chloride or ammonium chloride.

These are clearly very similar reactions. The full equations are:

In the ammonia case, there don't appear to be any hydroxide ions!

You can get around this by saying that the ammonia reacts with the water it is dissolved
in to produce ammonium ions and hydroxide ions:

This is a reversible reaction, and in a typical dilute ammonia solution, about 99% of the
ammonia remains as ammonia molecules. Nevertheless, there are hydroxide ions there,
and we can squeeze this into the Arrhenius theory.


In some cases, the acid is so good at giving away hydrogen ions that it is virtually 100%
ionised. Hydrogen chloride is described as a strong acid. Other common strong acids
include sulphuric acid and nitric acid.

But for many other acids only about 1% of the molecules are converted into ions. The
rest remain as molecules without forming any ions at all. Most organic acids like
ethanoic (acetic) acid from vinegar and citric acid from lemon juice are weak. Carbonic
acid is even weaker. A concentrated solution of these weak acid will never get to pH
number lower than 2,5 approximately. Hence:

A strong acid is one which is virtually 100 % ionised in solution.

A weak acid is one which doesn't ionise fully when it is dissolved in water.

A strong base or alkali is like sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide (alkalis)

which are fully ionic. The compound is 100% split up into metal ions and hydroxide
ions in solution.
Some strong bases like calcium hydroxide aren't very soluble in water. That doesn't
matter: what does dissolve is still 100% ionised into calcium ions and hydroxide ions.
Calcium hydroxide still counts as a strong base because of that 100% ionisation

A weak base is one which doesn't convert fully into hydroxide ions in solution.
Ammonia is a typical weak base. Ammonia itself obviously doesn't contain hydroxide
ions, but it reacts with water to produce ammonium ions and hydroxide ions.

However, at any time about 99% of the ammonia is still present as ammonia molecules.
Only about 1% has actually produced hydroxide ions.

It is important that you don't confuse the words strong and weak with the terms
concentrated and dilute. The strength of an acid is related to the proportion of it which
has reacted with water to produce ions. The concentration tells you about how much of
the original acid is dissolved in the solution. It is perfectly possible to have a
concentrated solution of a weak acid, or a dilute solution of a strong acid.


1- Name three characteristics of an acid and three of an alkaline solution.

2- What makes an acid and an alkali to behave the way they do according to

3- Write the neutralization reaction between:

a- sodium hydroxide and sulphuric acid
b- calcium oxide and nitric acid
c- hydrochloric acid and aluminium oxide

4- What is the difference between a base and an alkali?

5- What is an indicator?

6- Five solutions from A to E were tested with universal indicator solution. The
results were:
pH = 1 pH = 4 pH = 7 pH = 9 pH = 13

a- What colour will each solution be?

b- Which solution is
i- strongly alkaline
ii- weakly acidic
iii- neutral
iv- strongly acidic
c- The five solutions were known to be chloride, sulphuric acid, ammonia
solution, sodium hydroxide, and ethanoic acid. Identify each of them.
7- Some woods in northern Europe are being severely damaged because of acid
rain. Acid rain is formed because exhaust gases from cars and factories contain
SO2. This is a gas that after a series of chemical changes forms H2SO4. This
substance falls with precipitation and attacks the plants’ tissues
a- A sample of rain water is found to be mild to moderately acid. State
possible value for its pH
b- What colour will Universal Indicator turn in this water sample?
c- Name one substance that would neutralise the water sample.

8- Weakly acidic solution and a weak acid solution have not the same meaning.
Explain the difference.


Defining Oxidation and Reduction (Redox)

This page looks at the various definitions of oxidation and reduction (redox) in terms of
the transfer of oxygen or electrons. It also explains the terms oxidising agent and
reducing agent.

Oxidation and reduction in terms of oxygen transfer

• Oxidation is gain of oxygen.

• Reduction is loss of oxygen.

Because both reduction and oxidation are going on side-by-side, this is known as a
redox reaction.

Oxidation and reduction in terms of electron transfer

This is the most important use of the terms oxidation and reduction.

• Oxidation is loss of electrons.

• Reduction is gain of electrons.

Once again both processes goon side-by-side

Oxidising and reducing agents

An oxidising agent is substance which oxidises something else. In the above example,
the iron(III) oxide is the oxidising agent.
A reducing agent reduces something else. In the equation, the carbon monoxide is the
reducing agent.

• Oxidising agents give oxygen to or remove electrons from another

• Reducing agents remove oxygen from or give electrons to another

A simple example
The equation shows a simple redox reaction which can obviously be described in terms
of oxygen or electron transfer.

Copper(II) oxide and magnesium oxide are both ionic. The metals obviously aren't. If
you rewrite this as an ionic equation, it turns out that the oxide ions are spectator ions
(nothing is happening to them)and you are left with:

A last comment on oxidising and reducing agents

If you look at the equation above, the magnesium is reducing the copper(II) ions by
giving them electrons to neutralise the charge. Magnesium is a reducing agent.
Looking at it the other way round, the copper(II) ions are removing electrons from the
magnesium to create the magnesium ions. The copper(II) ions are acting as an oxidising
This is potentially very confusing if you try to learn both what oxidation and reduction
mean in terms of electron transfer, and also learn definitions of oxidising and reducing
agents in the same terms.

The Importance of Redox Reactions

Redox reactions comprise an incredible variety of chemical processes, involved in the

very basis of our lives:
• Photosynthesis
• Cell respiration
• Fuel burning (combustion) for moving (cars, plains, spaceships), heating and
cooking (homes), working (industry) and getting energy (electric power plants).
• Metal extraction and purification
• Preparation of chlorine and caustic soda among others.
• Using batteries


1- Which are the fossil fuels?

2- Which is the main constituent of natural gas?

3- Write the equations for the complete combustion of coal and methane. What is
formed during the incomplete combustion of a fuel?

4- What is the fire triangle? How do we put out a fire?

5- How does a battery work?

6- Describe briefly what electrolysis is. What happens at the anode and the cathode
during electrolysis?

7- Describe very briefly the methods used to get

a. iron from haematite
b. aluminium from bauxite
c. caustic soda and chlorine

8- What gets oxidised and what gets reduced in photosynthesis? Does light catalyse
photosynthesis? Explain.

9- What happens during respiration? Which substances get oxidised and / or


10- Decide if the following are redox reactions. In case they were:
a- Find which substance is getting oxidized and which reduced
b- Find both the oxidizing and reducing agent

Cl2 + 2 KBr → 2 KCl + Br2

S + O2 → SO2

2 SO2 + O2 → SO3

2 HClO3 → 2 HCl + 3 O2