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Experimental Determination Of The

Empirical Formula Of Magnesium Oxide

The empirical formula of a chemical compound is the simplest
positive integer ratio of atoms present in a compound 1. For example,
with ethane its molecular formula is C2H6, from this we can tell that
for each carbon atom there is 3 hydrogen atoms. So the ratio is 1:3,
from this ratio we can deduce that the empirical formula for ethane
is CH3. To work out the empirical formula, the moles of the different
atoms in a compound will be needed. A mole is the amount of pure
substance containing the same number of chemical units as there
are atoms in exactly 12 grams of carbon-12 (i.e., 6.023 X 10 23). This
number is known as Avogadros constant. To obtain a molar ratio,
you have to divide each mole of each element in the compound by
its molar mass, and then find the smallest positive integer ratio to
workout the formula of the compound. so as in the case with ethane
2/8:6/8 and the smallest possible integers show its 1:3. In this
experiment, the magnesium metal being explored is in the form of a
magnesium ribbon. The magnesium is heated in air, with the
presence of oxygen, to form the compound magnesium oxide.
Magnesium is group 2 element and so it forms a Mg +2 ion. oxygen is
group 6 element and so it forms a O2- ion. In the reaction of
magnesium of oxide, the magnesium cation will readily accept 2
electrons from the oxygen anion, and therefore producing
magnesium oxide. By obtaining the masses of both oxygen and
magnesium I will then be able to work out its molar ratio. The molar
ratio will show us the empirical formula of the compound
magnesium oxide.
Magnesium + Oxygen = Magnesium Oxide
Mg+2 + o2- = MgO
Having used the same analytical balance for all the weighing in this
experiment, Ive managed to I accurately weigh a dry porcelain
crucible + lid. I then took a length of magnesium ribbon (at about
25cm). I cleaned the magnesium (Mg) with emery paper, and then
coiled it loosely. I then placed the coiled ribbon of magnesium in the
crucible, and reweighed the crucible + lid + magnesium ribbon.
Having noted down the masses, I then placed the crucible in a pipeclay triangle, and mounted this on a tripod. I placed the lid on the
crucible, so that there is a small gap, this was to admit air into the
1Gold, Victor (1997). Compendium of Chemical Terminology: IUPAC.
George M Banayoti, 13108619


crucible, however also preventing any products from escaping. I

then heated the crucible fairly strongly with a Bunsen burner, and
occasionally lifted the lid slightly with a pair of crucible tongs, to
have a look inside. I continued to heat until I observed a greyish
white ash that remained inside. This ash shouldnt glow brightly
when the lid is lifted.
The table below illustrates the results noted.
Mass of crucible + lid
Mass of crucible + lid + Mg
Mass of Magnesium
Mass of crucible + lid + MgO
Mass of MgO residue
Mass of Oxygen that combines
with Mg

Mass (in grams, g)

37.8736 g
38.2786 g
0.405 g
38.564 g
0.6904 g
0.2854 g

From the data entered in the table above, I was able to answer the
following calculations on Magnesium Oxide.
Calculating the moles of Magnesium (24.3 g mol) used in the

Molar Mass

0.405 g
= 0.017 mol-1
24.3 g mol

Calculating the moles of Oxygen (16 g mol) atoms that

combined with Magnesium (24.3 g mol):

Molar Mass

0.2854 g
= 0.018 mol-1
16 g mol

Calculating the number of moles of Oxygen that Combined

with one mole of Magnesium:

Moles of Oxygen
Moles of Magnesium

= 1.05

- 1.05 as a whole number (integer) is almost exactly 1.

Writing the experimental formula as MgO:
- As we can tell the molar ratio is 1:1, then 1 mole of
magnesium will react with 1 mole of oxygen, so then from
the molar ratio we can determine that the formula is MgO.
Obtaining the % error of results:
Xt = 1
George M Banayoti, 13108619


% error =

( XeXt )
x 100

x 100

= 5%

The % error value I obtained was of a high magnitude.

Calculating the amount of Magnesium oxide that was produced

from the amount of Oxygen that was used in the experiment,
(MgO = 40.3 g mol):
- As its 1:1 than 0.018:0.018, so 0.018 x 40.3 = 0.7254 g of
Calculating the Maximum amount of MgO that could be
produced from the initial amount of Mg ribbon:
- As its 1:1 than 0.017:0.017, so 0.017 x 40.3 = 0.6851 g of
Calculating the % yield:

Experimental yield
x 10 0
Theoretical yield


= 105.9%

The value of the % yield looks to be an error, which means

my yield in the experiment may have had some impurities.

After the experiment was conducted and the calculations that

followed, from the results of the calculations made above I can now
deduce that the molar ratio is of 1:1 and so the empirical formula
predicted from theory is MgO. Although the lab experiment may
have been subject of error, which can be justified by the high value
of % error. % error is calculated to determine the precision of my
calculations. Note for chemistry and other sciences, it is customary
to keep a negative value. Whether error is positive or negative it is
important. I believe that the residue left in the crucible at the end of
the experiment was not entirely magnesium oxide. The reason for
this error is because the experimental value of MgO was significantly
higher than the theoretical value calculated originally. The
magnesium ribbon could have also reacted with nitrogen in the air,
as the air is made up 78% nitrogen its only fitting that such an error
could take place. When magnesium reacts with nitrogen it forms
magnesium nitride, so than the density of magnesium higher than
the accepted value. One way that this error can be avoided is by
burning it in pure oxygen, however in reality that is a lot more
difficult. This would be the most significant error that can be drawn.
An additional possible source of error could be that some of the
white fume that was observed during the experiment may have
escaped. The effect that this would have on the data would mean
the molar value will change. One way to avoid any of the fumes
observed from escaping is by carrying out the experiment in a fume
George M Banayoti, 13108619


cupboard. Carrying out the experiment inside the fume cupboard

would have improved the experiment as well as if it were repeated
several times and the results obtained are then averaged out. This
would make the experiment more reliable, as it should ideally
reduce the possibility of random errors. I do however conclude that
my experimental result is sufficient to confirm the formula of
magnesium oxide.
Why was the same balance for all of the weighing in this
- To minimise any errors in your experiment. All equipment
has some margin of error. By using the same balance you
are keeping your margin or error to a minimum.
Does a dry crucible mean it is clean? What do you understand
by clean in this context:
- In this context what I understand is that by dry crucible, it is
clean from any other substances, these can effect the mass
of the crucible.
Why was the magnesium ribbon cleaned with emery paper:
- When magnesium is exposed to oxygen in the air it forms an
oxide layer which is white coated, this can interfere with the
burning process. So the magnesium ribbon is cleaned with
emery paper to remove the oxide layer.
Why was the magnesium coiled loosely:
- This is so it can be placed at the bottom of the crucible and
the air can circulate it
How do you know the crucible and its contents are cool? What
are the consequences of weighing a warm crucible-lid-residue
and How might this affect your result:
- I know that the crucible and its contents are cool by
observing the experiment until all the mg has reacted with
oxygen, and it has turned into ash. The effect of weighing it
while it is still warm, is that the results on the mass will be
different than the value you want.
Calculate the amount of water of crystallisation, in moles,
removed by heating the sample:
- 2 x 5H2O = 10 moles
George M Banayoti, 13108619


Calculate the moles of anhydrous copper nitrate remaining in

the crucible:
- 9.63g/187.5gmol = 0.05 mol

George M Banayoti, 13108619