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Chemistry Misconceptions

Sources of Wisdom 1. Objects float in water because they are lighter than water. 2. Objects sink in water because they are heavier than water. 3. Mass/volume/weight/heaviness/size/density may be perceived as equivalent. 4. Wood floats and metal sinks. 5. All objects containing air float. 6. Liquids of high viscosity are also liquids with high density. 7. Adhesion is the same as cohesion 8. Heating air only makes it hotter. 9. Pressure and force are synonymous. 10. Pressure arises from moving fluids. 11. Moving fluids contain higher pressure. 12. Liquids rise in a straw because of suction. 13. Fluid pressure only acts downward. 14. Heat is a substance. 15. Heat is not energy. 16. Temperature is a property of a particular material or object metal is naturally cooler than plastic. 17. The temperature of an object depends on its size. 18. Heat and cold are different, rather than being opposite ends of a continuum. 19. When temperature at boiling remains constant, something is wrong. 20. Boiling is the maximum temperature a substance can reach. 21. Ice cannot change temperature. 22. Objects of different temperature that are in contact with each other, or in contact with air at different temperature, do not necessarily move toward the same temperature. 23. Heat only travels upward, it rises. 24. The kinetic theory does not really explain heat transfer. (It is recited but not believed). 25. Objects that readily become warm, are good conductors of heat, do not readily become cold. 26. The bubbles in boiling water contain air, oxygen, or nothing, rather than water vapor. 27. Gases are not matter because most are invisible. 28. Gases do not have mass. 29. A thick liquid has a higher density than water. 30. Mass and volume, which both describe an amount of matter, are the same property. 31. Air and oxygen are the same gas. 32. Helium and hot air are the same gas. 33. Expansion of matter is due to expansion of particles rather than to increased particle spacing. 34. Particles of solids have no motion. 35. Relative particle spacing among solids, liquids and gases (1:1:10) is incorrectly perceived and not generally related to the density of the states.

36. Materials can only exhibit properties of one state of matter. 37. Particles possess the same properties as the materials they compose. For example, atoms of copper are orange and shiny, gas molecules are transparent, and solid molecules are hard. 38. Melting/freezing and boiling/condensation are often understood only in terms of water. 39. Particles are viewed as mini-versions of the substances they comprise. 40. Particles are often misrepresented in sketches. No differentiation is made between atoms and molecules. 41. Particles misrepresented and undifferentiated in concepts involving elements, compounds, mixtures, solutions and substances. 42. Frequent disregard for particle conservation and orderliness when describing changes. 43. Absence of conservation of particles during a chemical change. 44. Chemical changes perceived as additive, rather than interactive. After chemical change the original substances are perceived as remaining, even though they are altered. 45. Failure to perceive that individual substances and properties correspond to certain types of particles formation of a new substance with new propertie

46. Most everyone has seen steam. Physicists define steam as water in the invisible, gaseous state. Water in the gaseous state is called water vapor. We are "seeing" liquid droplets condensed from steam. 47. Einstein played a "hands-on" roll in the development of nuclear weapons. He never participated in the Manhattan project which built the first atomic bombs. 48. Reflection off the ocean surface is what makes the sky blue. This is a common misconception for some people living near the ocean. The blueness is due to selective scattering of blue light by molecules and very small particles in the air along with our sensitivity to blue light. One would be hard pressed to use this misconception to explain blue skies in Montana! 49. As you go up in the atmosphere it gets hotter because you are getting closer to the sun. As a general rule, it gets colder for the first seven miles because we are getting further from the earth's surface which is the lower atmosphere's heat source (via radiation, conduction, convection, and latent heat transfer). Exceptions to that rule in the lower atmosphere are called "temperature (or thermal) inversions." 50. Sailboats move through the water mainly because they are being pushed by the wind.

There are "points" of sailing where the boat is actually being pulled by the wind due to the lower pressure on the leeward side of the sail. One example of such a "point" is the position called close hauled when the boat is working upwind as closely as it can (which for most boats is about 45 degrees off the wind). 51. Humid air is denser and heavier than dry air. If all other variables are equal (e.g., temperature) air abundant in water vapor is less dense and weighs less than dry air. It is a real paradox. This misconception is frequently perpetuated by auto racing enthusiasts who are making some false assumptions. 52. Lightning never strikes the same place twice. Some radio/television towers, tall buildings, mountain peaks, etc. get hit by lightning over and over again. Incidentally, lightning can be ground to cloud, cloud to ground, and cloud to cloud. Lightning can occur in the absence of clouds. If you have heard of "lightning out of the blue" it does happen that the sky can be blue overhead at the point where lightning strikes the ground because it can travel diagonally out of a cloud for several miles. 53. If the wind velocity doubles, its force doubles. If the velocity doubles, the force is four times greater upon a surface being struck at right angles. This relationship between force and velocity applies to many things, including auto accidents, rivers, a boxer's punch, etc. 54. Pencil marking elements are lead. The elements are made mostly of graphite (a carbon mineral). 55. Smoke from the smokestacks near electric power plants contains material from nuclear reactors. If there is a stack with a power generating unit it will be associated with the burning of a "fossil fuel" such as oil or coal. At Crystal River, on the Gulf Coast in Citrus County, Florida, units 1, 2, 4 and 5 use coal. Unit 3 is a nuclear reactor of the pressurized water type; it has no stack. 56. Protons and neutrons cannot be further subdivided. They are believed to be made of smaller particles called "quarks." It is speculated that quarks are made of even smaller particles.

57. The water in toilets on the other side of the equator swirls down in the opposite direction. Only if by design - if you were to transport your favorite toilet or sink to Australia the water would rotate in the same direction as it does in the Northern Hemisphere. Reversal demonstrations on cruise ships crossing the equator and in equatorial villages are parlor tricks. 58. The salt in a water softener's brine tank increases the salt content of the treated water. Hard water is water with a lot of dissolved calcium and, to a lesser degree, magnesium. Sodium from the salt replaces calcium and magnesium in the water on a one to one exchange. So the salt (sodium chloride) content does not increase but the sodium content does. Very hard water requires, at most, 40 mg of sodium for each 8 ounce glass of water. By contrast, an 8 ounce glass of low fat milk contains about 120 mg of sodium! Typically one slice of bread will contain 100 to 200 mg of sodium!

Misconception Atoms

"Proper" concept (to date, of course!)

Atoms can be seen with a microscope.

Atoms cannot be seen with a microscope. The extent of an atoms small size is often not well understood. For example, there are about one million atoms across the width of human hair, but many students guess a number in the hundreds or thousands. Atoms vibrate because they all possess some thermal energy. They do not possess the characteristics of living things (i.e. needing energy to survive, producing wastes, reproduction, adaptability, etc.). The nuclei of cells and atoms are not synonymous.

Atoms are alive (because they move) Atoms are like cells with a membrane and nucleus Atoms can reproduce after the nuclei divide Atoms have electrons circling them like planets around a star An electron shell is like an eggshell or clamshell, thin and hard The electron shell is there to protect the nucleus, like an eggshell and a yolk

Electrons do not follow a simple circular pattern around the nucleus. Shells are not physical shells like eggshells. They are not thin or hard. They are regions around the nucleus where electrons can be found.

The electron cloud is like a rain cloud, with Electrons are not suspended motionless in electrons suspended in it like droplets of the "electron cloud". Instead, they are water. constantly moving throughout the "cloud", which is not made of any other kind of The cloud contains the electrons but is matter. made of something else The electron shell is a matrix of some kind of stuff with electrons embedded in it Atoms "own" their electrons There are not different kinds of electrons for different atoms. Atoms do not "possess" their specific electrons. Electrons are the same and can be transferred from

one atom to another. Molecules Molecules are basic, simple, indivisible entities Molecules are made of smaller entities (atoms) which reorganized into different molecules. Therefore molecules are divisible.

Molecules of solids are hard, molecules of gases are soft

Molecule shape, size and mass do not change between solid and gas phases. Just because the phase as a whole appears Molecules of solids are biggest, molecules different, e.g. often the gas is less visible than when in the solid form, doesnt mean of gases are smallest that the molecules themselves have changed, only the forces between them. Molecules of solids are cubes, molecules of Changes of state are physical changes. gases are round Vapour molecules weigh less than solid molecules (e.g. water vapour vs. ice) Molecules expand when heated Molecules themselves do not expand. The substance heated may appear to expand because heat causes molecules to move faster (and further apart).

Chemical Bonds Molecules are glued together Forces of attraction hold molecules together, not glue. Not all bonds release energy when broken or require energy to form. Exothermic reactions can form new molecules in which the products possess less energy than the reactants; hence, release energy when the bonds form and require energy to be

Bonds store energy, Breaking chemical bonds releases energy, Bond making requires energy

broken. Ionic pairs, such as Na+ and Cl-, are molecules Ions are not considered molecules, which contain covalent bonds. A better word to use for ionic pairs in ionic compounds may be formula unit. Chemical bonds are not made of a separate form of matter, but the electrons that are shared and forces of attraction.

The chemical bond is a physical thing made of matter

Chemical Bonds Ionic Ionic compounds form neutral molecules, such as Na+Cl- molecules, in water In water, ionic compounds dissociate into their ions, which are not neutral molecules because they possess a charge and the solution can act as an electrolyte. Ionic compounds are not composed of "molecules", but of ions which are attracted to one another. For example, an Na+ ion that is surrounded by Cl- ions is attracted to all of the Cl- ions, even though they are not all considered part of the "formula unit". It is these bonds that are broken when the ionic compound is dissolved in water, resulting in Na+ and Clions.

Bonds within "ionic molecules" are stronger than inter-molecular forces Na+Cl- bonds are not broken in dissolving; only inter-molecular bonds are broken

Chemical Bonds Covalent Electrons know which atom they came from Atoms know who owes them an electron There are not different kinds of electrons for different atoms. Atoms do not "possess" their specific electrons. Electrons are the same and can be transferred from one atom to another.

Electron pairs are equally shared in all covalent bonds

Electrons pairs are not shared equally in all covalent bonds. In some, one atom attracts the electron pair more than the other atom (i.e. a difference in electronegativity), and causes the electron pair to be closer to it than to the other atom. The strength of a covalent bond, an intramolecular force (within the molecule, i.e. between atoms), is much greater than that of intermolecular forces (between molecules). Hence, molecules can be pulled apart more easily than breaking apart the molecules themselves.

The strengths of covalent bonds and intermolecular forces are similar

Chemical Reactions Freezing and boiling are examples of chemical reactions Freezing and boiling are examples of changes of state, which are physical reactions, not chemical. Other changes of state include melting, condensation, and sublimation. One characteristic that changes of state do share with chemical changes: energy is either added or removed from the system, unlike other physical changes. A very common misconception. Chemical changes are also reversible. Consider equilibrium reactions in which forward and backward reactions are both occurring at the same time, as well as Le Chataliers Principle. Some physical changes are also hard to reverse, for example, crushing a rock. The original substance can be produced if the reaction can be reversed under the necessary conditions.

Physical changes are reversible while chemical changes are not

The original substance vanishes "completely and forever" in a chemical reaction

Mass is conserved, but not the number or species of atoms

Atoms are not created or destroyed in standard chemical reactions. Therefore, the number and species of atoms do not change, and hence mass is also conserved. This shows a discrepancy between the concepts of speed and completeness. A reaction can reach equilibrium before it has been "completed", regardless of how fast the reaction proceeds. Reactions can reach equilibrium before the reactants are exhausted. Equilibrium constants and Le Chataliers Principle. Students may believe that no reactions are occurring at equilibrium because the netreaction is zero. However, this means that reactions are still occurring both forward and backward reactions are occurring at the same rate, and no net change is observed. Chemical equilibrium is dynamic. Heat is needed at the beginning to initiate, or activate, the reaction. Once activated, the reaction proceeds without further energy input, and releases energy in the form of light. Therefore, it is an exothermic reaction. Another example is heating a piece of magnesium metal in a Bunsen burner, which causes it to combine with the oxygen in the air, releasing a bright light and forming magnesium oxide. Energy is not "used up" or "created" in chemical reactions. Instead, they are released or stored in the form of chemical bonds between atoms.

Reactions that proceed more rapidly also proceed further (more completely.)

Chemical reactions will continue until all the reactants are exhausted

Chemical equilibrium is a static condition

A candle burning is endothermic, since heat is needed to initiate the reaction

Energy is used up in chemical reactions. Energy is created in chemical reactions.

Miscellaneous Oil doesnt mix with water because oil and water molecules repel each other Oil molecules are actually attracted to water molecules more than to their own molecules. This can be shown when a drop of oil, which is originally spherical in shape which minimizes the number of molecules which are not surrounded by its own molecules, is dropped onto the surface of water. When it hits the water, the oil droplet spreads out instead of staying spherical, showing that the attraction between oil and water is greater than between oil and oil. Oil and water remain in separate phases, however, because the water-water attractive forces are still much greater than oil-water attraction. It would require an input of energy for the oil molecules to come between water molecules. Adding salt to water does increase the boiling point. However, it takes longer for the water to reach this higher temperature (with a constant supply of heat from the stove), and the once the water has reached the higher temperature, the change is so small that it is not significant. Concentration is the number of moles of solute that are dissolved in one liter of solvent. Strength is the percentage of those molecules that dissociate into ions. An interesting fact: some weak acids (e.g. acetic) actually increase in strength as their concentration decreases.

Adding salt to water decreases the amount of time cooking

Strength (of acids and bases) and concentration mean the same thing