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F Activity 5: White Powders

Identifying White Solids

While there is a variety of very exciting white powders
out there in the world, we will contain our exploration of
white powders to ionic compounds. Though some of the
“white” powders are slightly blue and all are legal, you
will still get a feel for a few ways forensic scientists and
chemists identify unknown ionic compounds.
This lab is in four parts. You’ve already completed one
of these portions of this identification lab – flame tests.
With flame tests, you reviewed the concept of atomic
structure and emission spectra data. The other three
parts will be some review, but unlike flame tests, this
investigation will introduce new concepts (so that is why I
have kept them in a separate lab). We will work on this
lab for a number of days, so by the end you will have a
better idea of how to (1) name ionic compounds, (2) how
to determine the solubility of ionic compounds in
solution, (3) how to predict the product of a double
replacement reaction, and (4) identify acids and bases.
Yes, there are quite a few content concepts in this single
activity! The main objective of this lab, though, is to
learn how to identify white ionic solids through their
chemical and physical properties. As in all labs this unit,
we are also working to discover the limitations of each



Here is a list of the “white” ionic powders (bolded) and the reagents (underlined) we will use for this lab
(including the flame test chlorides which are in italics). In a well organized table, write the name, the
chemical formula, and a common use of the compound for each reagent, household white powder, or
flame test white powder. To determine a household use, you will need to reference Wikipedia or
whatever other source on chemical compounds you choose.

KCl calcium sulfate

CaCO3 copper (II) chloride
CaCl2 strontium chloride
BaCl2 silver nitrate
NaHCO3 acetic acid (H + acetate ion)
NaOH sodium chloride
LiCl sodium carbonate

As always, include an objective or essential question for this laboratory activity and share that objective
with a teammate or laboratory partner.

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This lab will be set up a bit differently than your previous activities. Since there is so much material
packed into one forensic concept (identifying white powders), this experiment will be broken into four
sections for experimenting. An overall analysis will be required with the construction of a flow chart under
analyzing. The four critically thinking questions will also serve as the portion that unifies all four of these
different sections.
Part A: Flame Tests
See previous laboratory journal write up to reference this data. You do not need to enter anything
here, but you should remember that the first test you’d run on an unknown white powder is a
flame test.

Part B: Solubility
In this section you will determine whether each of the household white powders (bolded in the
preparing section) is soluble in water. This is a test of one of the physical properties of the
white ionic solids.
1. Take a pea-sized lump of each of the household white powders (small – about 0.20g) and
place it in a labeled test tube.
2. Fill the test tube ¾ of the way full with distilled water.
3. Mix the test tube with the firm flick method.
4. In your observation/results section, write what you observe.
5. Save these test tubes for Part C.

Part C: Reactions with AgNO3 and HC2H3O2

Reaction with silver nitrate
In this section you will look at how each of the household white powders reacts with silver nitrate
(one of the reagents from the list in the preparing section). This is a test of one of the chemical
properties of the white ionic solids.
1. Use the test tubes from Part B. If it did not make a homogeneous solution, remix the test
2. Add 5 drops of a 0.10M solution of silver nitrate. SILVER NITRATE MAKES A MESS BY
3. Mix the test tube with a few firm flicks.
4. Record your observations in the observation/results section.

Reaction with acetic acid

In this section you will look at how each of the household white powders reacts with acetic acid
(one of the reagents from the list in the preparing section). This is a test of one of the chemical
properties of the white ionic solids.
1. Make a solution of each white powder as you did in Part B (part two steps 1 – 3).
2. Add 20 – 30 drops of a 1.0M solution of acetic acid.
3. Mix the test tube with a few firm flicks.
4. Record your observations in the observations/results section.

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Part D: Acids and Bases
In this section you will look at whether the solution of each household white powder is acidic (pH
< 7) or basic (pH > 7). Phenolphthalein (PHTH) is a reagent that indicates if the solution is acidic
or basic. If after adding PHTH the solution turns pink, it is basic. You will then add Universal
Indicator (UI) to another solution of each white powder to determine the pH. This should feel very
familiar…(think to the Periodic Table Unit). This is a test of one of the physical properties of
the white ionic solids (pH of a solution of the white powder).
1. Make two solutions of each white powder as you did in part two (part two steps 1 – 3).
2. To one of the sets of solutions, add 4 drops of PHTH solution to each test tube.
3. Record your observations in the observations/results section. Name each white power as
acidic or basic in solution.
4. To the other set of solutions, add 4 – 8 drops of UI solution to each test tube.
5. Record your observations in the observations/results section, using the scale to match the
color to a pH.



Reading: White Powders

Identifying Unknowns in Chemistry

Forensic chemists are often faced with the challenging task of identifying unknown compounds. There
are millions of possible compounds and mixtures of compounds to choose from, forensic chemists
must develop tests that identify each one! The use of tests to determine the identity of an unknown
compound is called qualitative analysis. In this type of analysis, it is the identity of the unknown –
the qualities that make it unique – that is important and not the quantity, or amount, of the substance.
In this experiment, you used the results from a series of tests performed on six different compounds
to develop a flowchart. This flowchart will allow you to identify one or more unknown white powders
found at the chapter challenge crime scene, if the powder or powders are the ones you have tested in
this activity.

The key to identifying a white powder is testing properties that allow one powder to be differentiated
from another. For example, both sugar and salt dissolve easily in water. Therefore, testing a powder
that may be either sugar or salt by dissolving the powder in water would not help tell them apart. But
sugar melts at a relatively low temperature, while salt melts at a much higher temperature, so if our
white powder melts in a pan on the stove, we know that it cannot be salt. In other words, the tests
used in a qualitative analysis depend on the properties of the possible unknown substances. If the
number of possible substances is large or some of the possible substances have many physical and
chemical properties in common, a scientist might have to conduct several different tests before she
can accurately identify the unknown substance.

Chemical Formulas
The white powders you tested have different physical and chemical properties because they are each
unique chemical compounds with different names and chemical formulas. A chemical formula is
how chemists represent the chemical composition of a compound. They use the atomic symbols for
each element to represent the chemical makeup of the compound. For example NaCl is made up of
sodium and chloride. The subscripts represent the relative number of one element to another. For
example, in H2O there are two atoms of hydrogen for every one atom of oxygen.

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Ionic Compounds
The white powders used in this lab are all ionic compounds. Ionic compounds are made of a
combination of positive and negative ions, which were introduced in Activity 2. Sodium chloride is an
ionic compound, so its chemical formula, NaCl means there is one positive sodium ion (Na ) for every
one negative chloride ion (Cl ). Since the overall compound is neutral, we don’t include the charge on
the compound like we do on the ion.

Ionic compounds form on the basis that opposite charges attract. The positive sodium ion is attracted
to the negative chloride ion. This attraction between the positive ion (also called a cation) and the
negative ion (also called an anion) is called an ionic bond, and the substance formed by the bond is
the ionic compound. The sodium ion and chloride ion join to form the ionic compound sodium
chloride, NaCl, shown below.
+ -
Na + Cl  NaCl
In calcium chloride, CaCl2, there is one positive calcium ion (Ca ) for every two negative chloride
ions (again, Cl ).
+ -
Ca + 2Cl  CaCl2

Notice since there are two chloride ions for every one calcium ion there is 2 in front of the chloride
ion. You must always have the same number of ions or atoms of each element on both sides of the
chemical equation due to the principle of the conservation of matter, which states that matter
cannot be created or destroyed. In other words, chloride ions must be equal in the reactants and
products, so there must be two on each side.

In an ionic compound the cations and take the name of the element. The anions take the name of the
element but the ending is changed to –ide. Notice that metals form positive ions and nonmetals form
negative ions.

Some Common Ions

Formula Name Formula Name

Na+ Sodium ion Cl- Chloride ion
K+ Potassium ion F- Fluoride ion
Ag+ Silver ion O2- Oxide ion
Ca2+ Calcium ion S2- Sulfide ion

Groups of atoms may act as a single ion in an ionic compound, like in calcium carbonate, CaCO3.
There is one calcium cation (Ca2+) for every one carbonate anion (CO3 ). We call ions like
2- 2- - 2-
carbonate, (CO3 ), polyatomic ions. Sulfate (SO4 ), hydroxide (OH ), nitrate (NO3 ), acetate
(C2H3O2 ) and bicarbonate (HCO3) are other polyatomic anions found in the white powders and
reagents used in this lab.

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In Part A, you placed a sample of each white powder in water to see if it would dissolve. This property
of matter is called solubility. The powders that dissolved in water are said to be soluble. When a
solid dissolves in water the mixture of the dissolved solid and the water is called a solution. The
powders that did not dissolve are said to be insoluble. Whether or not a particular powder dissolves
in water is a complex matter that depends on many factors that are not discussed here. Fortunately,
the solubility of many substances in water has been investigated. The results of some of the
investigations are summarized in the table below.
Table of Solubility Rules

Nitrates (NO3-) - All are soluble

Chlorides (Cl-) - All are soluble except those containing ions of silver, mercury (I), and
lead (II).
Sulfates (SO42-) - All are soluble except those containing ions of barium, calcium,
strontium, silver, lead (II), and mercury (I).
Carbonates (CO32-) - All are insoluble except those containing ions of the Group I metals or
the ammonium ion.
Hydroxides (OH-) - All are insoluble except those containing ions of the Group I metals or
the ammonium ion.

This table can be used to predict if a given solid will dissolve in water. To determine if a solid is
soluble, look at the chemical formula for the solid, and identify which of the five negatively charged
ions listed in the above table the solid contains. Then read the rule for solids containing that ion and
the exceptions to the rule. For example, sodium carbonate, Na2CO3, contains the ion carbonate,
CO3 . According to the table, all carbonates are insoluble except for the ones containing Group I
metals. Sodium is a Group I metal, so sodium carbonate is an exception to the general rule that
carbonates are insoluble. Therefore, sodium carbonate is soluble and dissolves in water. Other
examples are given below.

•KCl is soluble because all chlorides are soluble except those containing ions of silver, mercury (I),
and lead (II), and KCl does not contain any of the exceptions.

•Mg(OH)2 is insoluble because hydroxides are insoluble except for those containing Group I metals
and magnesium is not a Group I metal.

Reactions of Ionic Compounds: Double Replacement Reactions

Ionic compounds can form insoluble solids in chemical reactions. For example, when silver nitrate
solution is added to sodium chloride solution a milky white solid is formed. The chemical equation for
this reaction is shown below.

silver nitrate + sodium chloride  sodium nitrate + silver chloride

AgNO3 + NaCl  NaNO3 + AgCl

By examining the reaction, you can see that the metals, sodium (Na) and silver (Ag), exchange
places to form two new compounds. This reaction is called a double replacement reaction. You
can determine the identity of the milky white solid, called a precipitate, by looking at the two
products and using the solubility rules. The first product, sodium nitrate, dissolves in water because
all nitrates are soluble. The second product, silver chloride, is insoluble because all chlorides are
soluble with the exception of mercury (II), lead (II), and silver. Because of silver chloride’s insolubility,

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instead of dissolving and being invisible like the sodium nitrate, the silver chloride that is formed is
visible as a milky white precipitate.

More examples of double replacement reactions are shown below:

potassium chloride + silver nitrate  potassium nitrate + silver chloride

soluble solid

calcium chloride + sodium carbonate  calcium carbonate + sodium chloride

solid soluble
Another example of a double replacement reaction from your lab is the reaction of acetic acid
solution with sodium hydrogen carbonate solution.

2HC2H3O2 + Na2CO3  2NaC2H3O2 + H2CO3

The hydrogen ion in acetic acid trades places with the sodium ion in the sodium carbonate. The
carbonic acid product, H2CO3, immediately decomposes to produce carbon dioxide gas (the bubbles
in part A) and water.
H2CO3  H2O + CO2
So whenever carbonic acid is a product in a chemical equation, we replace it with water and carbon

2HC2H3O2 + Na2CO3  2NaC2H3O2 + H2O + CO2

Generally, acetic acid and other acids react with carbonates and hydrogen carbonates to form carbon
dioxide gas. The gas is in the bubbles that form in the solution. A carbonate is a compound that
contains the CO3 ion. Some common carbonates include sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) and calcium
carbonate (CaCO3). Hydrogen carbonates are compounds that contain the bicarbonate ion HCO3 .
The most common bicarbonate is sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO3, commonly known as baking soda.
Bicarbonates react with acids in a manner similar to carbonates.

Acids and Bases

In Part D, you added phenolphthalein (PHTH) to your sample. Phenolphthalein is one of a class of
compounds known as acid-base indicators. Acids are compounds that form H ions in solution. Acids
taste sour (citric and maleic acids are used in sour candies), react with metals (corrosive), neutralize
bases, and react with some indicators to produce a color change. Acid-base indicators are
substances that change color when exposed to an acid or a base. Acids do not cause
phenolphthalein to change color. Some common acids and their uses include:

Name Formula Use

Acetic Acid HC2H3O2 Vinegar
Carbonic Acid H2CO3 Carbonate Sodas
Hydrochloric Acid HCl Stomach Acid, Serial Number Etching
Bases are compounds that form hydroxide ions (OH ) in solution. Bases taste bitter, are corrosive,
feel slippery, saponify fats (turns fats into soaps), neutralize acids, and cause certain indicators to
change color. Bases cause phenolphthalein to turn bright pink. Some common bases and their uses
are listed below.

Name Formula Use

Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) NaOH Making soap, drain cleaners
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Ammonia NH3 Fertilizers and cleaners
Magnesium hydroxide Mg(OH)2 Antacids
Sodium Carbonate Na2CO3 Luminol blood test

Flow Charts
Now that you can identify each compound based on its solubility in water and reaction with the other
three reagents, you need a way to represent this simply. In this portion of the lab, you will learn how
to use a type of map called a flowchart. Flowcharts can be used to illustrate a deductive reasoning
process (remember Activity 1?!), so they can be very handy to a forensic scientist.

The following flowchart (next page) can be used to identify the six modes of transportation shown.
Choose a mode of transportation and see if the flowchart identifies it correctly. Choose a second one
and try it again. On this sheet, fill in all the blanks. Is each blank unique? If so, the flowchart works.

Notice that a flowchart does not need to be based on yes-or-no questions to work. For example, one
of the questions could have been, “How many wheels does it have?” Answers to this could have
been, “Two,” “Four,” and “More than four.”

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Questions: White Powders
1. Which of the following compounds are insoluble in water?
K2CO3, Na2SO4, MgCO3, Ba(OH)2, FeCl3, Cu(NO3)2, PbCl2

2. Use the list of ions below to answer the questions.

- + 3+ 2- - + 2- 2+
Cl , Na , Al , SO4 , MnO4 , NH4 , O , Fe

a. Which ions are cations?

b. Which ions are anions?
c. Which ions are polyatomic ions?

3. Identify the double replacement reactions. For those that are not double replacement
reactions, write what type of reaction they are based on what we learned in the periodic table
a. AgNO3 + NaBr → NaNO3 + AgBr
b. CaCO3 → CaO + CO2
c. FeCl3 + 3KOH → 3KCl + Fe(OH)3
d. Zn + CuSO4 → ZnSO4 + Cu

4. Complete the word equations (in words!) for the following double replacement reactions.
a. potassium chloride + lead (II)nitrate →
b. iron (III) chloride + potassium hydroxide →
c. sodium hydroxide + calcium nitrate →

5. What are the precipitates that form in question number 4? Write their chemical formulae.
6. Name these acids or bases. What color would PHTH turn in a solution of each compound?
a. HCl
b. H2SO4
c. KOH
d. H2SO3
e. Mg(OH)2

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What does the activity mean?

Chemistry explains the macroscopic phenomenon (what you observe) with and explanation of what
happens at the nanoscopic level (atoms and molecules) using symbolic structures as a way to
communicate. Explain the meaning of this activity by completing the MNS table.


What are the observable To the best of your ability, Chemists use formulas as
changes that take place to describe what a solution of an symbols to represent elements
indicate a double replacement ionic compound looks like at and compounds. Explain the
reaction has happened? the nanoscale. Looking at a meaning of the formula NaOH.
picture of a solution on How do chemists name this
Odyssey may be VERY ionic compound?

How do I know?
Using terms such as chemical change, physical change, and the types of changes, explain how
someone could test to know they have discovered baking soda at a crime scene.

Why do I believe?
Are these tests presumptive or confirmatory tests? Explain by comparing and contrasting to other
activities in the unit.

Why should I care?

Create a flow chart to identify the 12 white powders in this activity (see preparing). The flow chart
should be used for the qualitative analysis of these white powders. It will be a tool for you to use
when you solve your crime at the end of the unit.

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