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Catalysts Previously, the students have come up with a definition for a catalyst.

The definition probably states that the catalyst speeds up the reaction, but doesnt react itself, or is not involved, or doesnt change. This lesson makes clear that the catalyst actually does change during the reaction, but is regenerated in the end. Rochelles salt demo: Rochelles salt (potassium sodium tartrate) is oxidized by hydrogen peroxide to form carbon dioxide gas, among other things. Dissolve 5 g of Rochelles salt in about 50 mL of water. Put this in a 250 mL beaker on the overhead. The solution is clear and colourless. Add about 50 mL of 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, also clear and colourless. There is no discernible formation of gas. The students may suggest heating the mixture up, so put it on a hot plate (already warm) and heat to 70C (use a thermometer and do not overheat!). Paper clip analogy: While the Rochelles salt/H2O2 mixture is heating, tell the students to take two separate paper clips (handed out at the beginning of class) and shake them in their cupped hands. The reaction that they are trying to get is the linking of the paper clips. It doesnt work because the paper clips would have to be travelling towards each other with a very high kinetic energy in order to bend the metal a bit. They would also have to have the right orientation. Get the kids to shake the clips a little more, just to make sure. Make sure that they dont manipulate the clips to link them real molecules dont get this kind of help! Get the kids to put the clips on a strip of paper (also distributed at the beginning of class) as shown:

When the ends of the strip are pulled, the paper clips move together and fly off the strip of paper joined together. Explain that the paper strip provides a surface for the clips to react on in just the right way. After the clips fly off, the strip of paper is returned to its original state. Back to Rochelles salt demo: If you werent too long-winded, the mixture should be at 70 by now. Put it back on the overhead, and note that there arent too many bubbles visible. Get a student to take a close look at the beaker some effervescence is visible, but the reaction is still pretty slow. Its time to add the catalyst! Next to the 250 mL beaker on the overhead, place a 50 mL beaker that contains some CoCl2 solution (0.2 g in about 10 mL). Note that the colour of the solution is pink. Tell the students that they are going to actually see an activated complex! Dump in the cobalt solution. The mixture will start to fizz rapidly (if it is over 70C you might get it frothing out of the beaker). As the reaction proceeds, the pink colour of the cobalt changes to a greenish colour (not visible on the overhead screen, but easily seen by the students looking directly at the beaker, which is nicely lit up by the overhead projector). As the reaction slows down and finishes, the green colour returns to pink. The green colour is due to the tartrate ion forming a complex with the cobalt ion. This provides an alternate mechanism by which the hydrogen peroxide can oxidize the tartrate. Write a new definition of catalyst on the board: A catalyst is a substance that speeds up a reaction by providing an alternate reaction path (or mechanism) with a lower Ea. The catalyst is regenerated by the end of the reaction. Draw a potential energy curve on the board, showing two paths uncatalyzed and catalyzed. Note the lower Ea for the catalyzed path. We can link this to reaction rates by drawing a kinetic energy distribution diagram, showing one distribution with two Eas. Note that a larger fraction of molecules are able to react when a catalyst is present, so we get a faster rate. Other demos Burning sugar cube: Clamp a sugar cube to a retort stand and try to set it on fire with a match (have a petri dish below to catch any melted sugar). It wont burn. Try not to burn yourself in the process! Take another sugar cube and rub it in some cigarette ash (at least two sides of the cube). Remind the students that, since the ash is from something that has already burned, it wont be able to burn in this reaction. Clamp the ashed sugar cube to a retort stand and light with a match. It should light easily, and burn for a while. The cigarette ash contains heavy metal atoms (one more reason not to smoke!) that act as a catalyst for the reaction.

Glowing penny: This is good for talking about heterogeneous catalysts. Drill a hole in a copper penny and thread some thick nichrome wire through it, enough to suspend the penny about three inches below a stirring rod. Place the rod on a beaker, and pour enough acetone in the beaker so that the penny is just above the surface, as shown:

Heat the penny in a Bunsen burner flame (be careful not to melt the nichrome wire) until it is almost glowing. Suspend the penny above the acetone again and watch. The penny will start to glow brighter and brighter, until it is an incandescent orange. On the surface of the penny, acetone is reacting to form ketene (H2C=C=O) and methane. This is an endothermic reaction, H = +56 kJ. The methane then reacts with oxygen to form water and CO2, which is nicely exothermic (H = -890 kJ). The ketene can also react with oxygen (I estimate H = -900 kJ). Overall, the whole process is exothermic enough to cause the copper to glow. The effect is quite captivating the bell rang while I was doing this in one class, and no-one moved! To remind the students that the copper is a catalyst, I show them the penny after the reaction (still pretty much the same) and tell them that I have been using the same penny for years (which is true, now).