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Rate of Reaction

The rate of a reaction is the speed at which a chemical reaction

happens. If a reaction has a low rate, that means the molecules
combine at a slower speed than a reaction with a high rate. Some
reactions take hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years while
others can happen in less than one second. If you want to think
of a very slow reaction, think about how long it takes plants and
ancient fish to become fossils (carbonization). The rate of
reaction also depends on the type of molecules that are
combining. If there are low concentrations of an essential
element or compound, the reaction will be slower.

There is another big idea for rates of reaction called collision

theory. The collision theory says that as more collisions in a
system occur, there will be more combinations of molecules
bouncing into each other. If you have more possible combinations
there is a higher chance that the molecules will complete the
reaction. The reaction will happen faster which means the rate of
that reaction will increase.

Think about how slowly molecules move in honey when compared

to your soda even though they are both liquids. There are a lower
number of collisions in the honey because of stronger
intermolecular forces (forces between molecules). The greater
forces mean that honey has a higher viscosity than the soda
Factors That Affect Rate
Reactions happen - no matter what.
Chemicals are always combining or breaking
down. The reactions happen over and over,
but not always at the same speed. A few things affect the overall
speed of the reaction and the number of collisions that can

Temperature: When you raise the temperature of a system, the

molecules bounce around a lot more. They have more energy.
When they bounce around more, they are more likely to collide.
That fact means they are also more likely to combine. When you
lower the temperature, the molecules are slower and collide less.
That temperature drop lowers the rate of the reaction. To the
chemistry lab! Sometimes you will mix solutions in ice so that the
temperature of the system stays cold and the rate of reaction is

Concentration: If there is more of a

substance in a system, there is a greater
chance that molecules will collide and speed
up the rate of the reaction. If there is less of
something, there will be fewer collisions and
the reaction will probably happen at a slower
speed. Sometimes, when you are in a
chemistry lab, you will add one solution to
another. When you want the rate of reaction to be slower, you
will add only a few drops at a time instead of the entire beaker.
Pressure: Pressure: Pressure affects the rate of reaction,
especially when you look at gases. When you increase the
pressure, the molecules have less space in which they can move.
That greater density of molecules increases the number of
collisions. When you decrease the pressure, molecules don't hit
each other as often and the rate of reaction decreases.

Pressure is also related to concentration and volume. By

decreasing the volume available to the molecules of gas, you are
increasing the concentration of molecules in a specific space. You
should also remember that changing the pressure of a system
only works well for gases. Generally, reaction rates for solids and
liquids remain unaffected by increases in pressure.

Measuring Reaction Rates

Scientists like to know the rates of
reactions. They like to measure
different kinds of rates too. Each rate
that can be measured tells scientists
something different about the reaction.
We're going to take a little time to cover a few different measures
of reaction rates.

Forward Rate: The rate of the forward reaction

when reactantscombine to become products.

Reverse Rate: The rate of the reverse reaction when products

break apart to become reactants.

Net Rate: The forward rate minus the reverse rate.

Average Rate: The speed of the entire reaction from start to

Instantaneous Rate: The speed of the reaction at one moment
in time. Some reactions can happen quickly at the start and then
slow down. You have one average rate, but the instantaneous
rates can tell you the whole story.

Scientists measure all of these

rates by finding out
the concentrations of
the molecules in the mixture. If
you find out the concentration of
molecules at two different times,
you can find out what direction
the reaction is moving toward
and how fast it is going. Even if
the concentrations are equal at
the two points of measurement, scientists still learn something. If
the concentrations are stable during two measurements, the
reaction is at an equilibrium point.

One Step at a Time

There is still more to know about measuring the rates of
reactions. Since many reactions happen in several steps, the rate
for each step needs to be measured. There will always be one
step that happens at the slowest speed. That slowest step is
called the rate-limiting step. That rate-limiting step is the one
reaction that really determines how fast the overall reaction can
happen. If you have six steps in your series of reactions and the
third step goes incredibly slow, that is the rate-limiting step. As
far as the overall reaction is
concerned, none of the other
rates really matter. If you want to
speed up the overall reaction, you
would focus on that slowest step.
Don't forget that if you only
speed up one step, another step
may become the new rate-
limiting step. You should always
understand how all of the steps are involved in the overall

Let's start with how to say this
word. Five syllables: STOY-KEE-
AHM-EH-TREE. It's a big word
that describes a simple idea.
Stoichiometry is the part of
chemistry that studies amounts of
substances that are involved
in reactions. You might be looking
at the amounts of substances
before the reaction. You might be
looking at the amount of material that is produced by the
reaction. Stoichiometry is all about the numbers.
All reactions are dependent on how much stuff you have.
Stoichiometry helps you figure out how much of a compound you
will need, or maybe how much you started with. We want to take
the time to explain that reactions depend on the compounds
involved and how much of each compound is needed.

What do you measure? It could

be anything. When you're doing
problems in stoichiometry, you
might look at...
- Mass of Reactants (chemicals
before the reaction)
- Mass of Products (chemicals
after the reaction)
- Chemical Equations
- Molecular Weights of
Reactants and Products
- Formulas of Various

Now, an example. Let's start with something simple like sodium

chloride (NaCl). You start with two ions and wind up with an
ionic/electrovalent compound. When you look at the equation,
you see that it takes one sodium ion (Na ) to combine with

one chlorineion (Cl ) to make the salt. When you


use stoichiometry, you can determine amounts of substances

needed to fulfill the requirements of the reaction. Stoichiometry
will tell you that, if you have ten million atoms of sodium and
only one atom of chlorine, you can only make one molecule of
sodium chloride. Nothing you can do will change that. It's like

10,000,000 Na + 1 Cl --> NaCl + 9,999,999 Na

Let's bump it up a level. When you mix hydrogen gas (H ) 2

and oxygen gas (O ), nothing much happens. When you add a


spark to the mixture, all of the molecules combine and eventually

form water (H O). You would

write it like this:

2H2 + O2 --> 2H2O

What does stoichiometry look at

here? First, look at the equation.
Four hydrogen atoms and two
oxygen atoms are on each side of
the equation. It's an important
idea to see that you need twice
as many hydrogen atoms as you
do oxygen atoms. The number of
atoms in the equation will help you figure out how much of each
substance you will need to make the reaction happen. If you
make this an extreme example and fill a sealed container with
one million hydrogen molecules and only one oxygen molecule,
the spark won't make an explosion. There is no monster reaction
to be created when there is only one oxygen molecule around.
You will make two water molecules and be done.

Heat and Cold

What are heat and cold? It's a
pretty simple idea. When you
think of heat, you probably think
of fire. When you think of cold,
you might think of an ice cube. It
all has to do with kinetic
energy in atoms. Heat has a lot
of kinetic energy and gives it
away. The cold doesn't have
much energy and absorbs it from
the surrounding area. Chemists measure heat in units
called Joules. You may also hear about sinks and sources. If
the temperature of an object is higher than the surrounding area,
it is considered a heat source. If the temperature of an object is
lower than the surrounding area, it is considered a heat sink.

There are two kinds of heat in chemistry. The first is caused by
physical activity. As you get more kinetic energy, there is more
activity in the system. This extra activity makes more molecular
collisions occur. The collisions create the heat. This happens
when you increase the pressure in a system. Chemical processes
cause the second type of heat. Instead of exciting a system and
feeling the heat, chemical bonds are made and broken, and the
energy is then released. A release of energy charges up the
system and the molecules bounce around faster, resulting in that
physical activity we just explained. The opposite can also happen.
Sometimes bonds are made and broken and energy is absorbed.
The system then gets colder as the temperature goes down.
Those emergency icepacks you see when people hurt their ankles
are good examples of chemical reactions that absorb energy.

There is energy all around us.

Just as matter is all around us,
energy is always there. Usually,
you will feel this energyas heat.
Let's say it's really hot out today.
Why is it hot? One big reason is
that there is a lot of heat/energy
coming from the Sun. The Sun is
a big furnace, and that furnace
heats the Earth. When a lot of the
Sun's radiant energy makes it to Earth, it transmits energy to
the atoms and molecules in the air and ground. Those molecules
heat up. The Sun makes your molecules more excited because of
the energy hitting you. You should remember that only a small
percentage of the Sun's energy makes it to Earth. We're talking
about millionths of a percent. The Sun gives off more energy than
you can imagine, and it doesn't end there. There are also millions
of stars that are bigger than our Sun. There's a lot of energy in
the Universe.
Energy in Chemical Bonds
We just talked about energy in a star. There is also energy stored
in the bonds between atoms. How about when you burn a piece
of wood? When you burn something, you release the energy from
the chemical bonds in the wood. Where did the energy come
from? The Sun. A plant needs the Sun to grow. Light hits the
plant and is used by a process called photosynthesis. The plant
captures the Sun's energy and stores it in the chemical bonds.
You have probably heard of glucose (C6H12O6), which is one of the
smallest sugar building blocks made by plants. The plant uses
glucose to power certain processes, to manufacture
the cellulose, and as a building block in the cellulose itself. When
you burn a piece of wood, you are releasing all of the energy
stored up. You experience that energy as heat and light (fire).
Factor Affect on Reaction Rate
temperature increasing temperature increases reaction rate
pressure increasing pressure increases reaction rate
concentration in a solution, increasing the amount of reactants increases the reaction rate
state of mattergases react more readily than liquids, which react more readily than solids
catalysts a catalyst lowers activation energy, increasing reaction rate
mixing mixing reactants improves reaction rate

The rate of reaction of magnesium

with hydrochloric acid
Class practical
Magnesium reacts with dilute hydrochloric acid in a conical flask which is connected to an inverted measuring
cylinder in a trough of water. The volume of hydrogen gas produced is measured over a few minutes, and the
results are used to plot a graph.

Lesson organisation
This is intended as a class practical. It is best if the students work in pairs because setting up and starting the
experiment requires more than one pair of hands. One student can add the magnesium ribbon to the acid and
stopper the flask, while the other starts the stopclock. During the experiment, one student can take the readings
while the other records them. The experiment itself takes only a few minutes. But allow at least 30 minutes to give
students time to set up, take readings and draw graph.

Hydrogen gas (EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE) is generated in the experiment. Students should not have access to any
source of ignition.

Apparatus Chemicals
Eye protection Magnesium ribbon cut into 3 cm lengths
Each group of students will Dilute hydrochloric acid, 1M
Conical flask (100 cm3) Refer to Health & Safety and
Single-holed rubber bung and Technical notes section below for
delivery tube to fit conical flask additional information.
(Note 1)
Trough or plastic washing-up
bowl (Note 2)
Measuring cylinders (100 cm3),
Clamp stand, boss and clamp
Graph paper

Health & Safety and Technical notes

Read our standard health & safety guidance
Wear eye protection throughout. Ensure that there are no naked flames.

Magnesium ribbon, Mg(s) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard. The magnesium ribbon should be clean and free from obvious
corrosion or oxidation. Clean if necessary by rubbing lengths of the ribbon with fine sandpaper to remove the layer
of oxidation.
Hydrochloric acid, HCl(aq) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard and CLEAPSS Recipe Book. The hydrochloric acid should be
about 1M for a reasonable rate of reaction. Each experiment run will need 50 cm 3. Though low hazard, eye
protection is necessary as you may get a spray as tiny bubbles burst.
Hydrogen gas, H2(g) (EXTREMELY FLAMMABLE) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard. Ensure that all naked flames are
extinguished, and that there are no other sources of ignition available to students.
1 The bungs in the flasks need to be rubber. Corks are too porous and will leak. The tube through the bung should
be a short section of glass, and then a flexible rubber tube can be connected.
2 Gas syringes can be used instead of troughs of water and measuring cylinders. But these are very expensive
and are probably best used by the teacher in a demonstration. Syringes should not be allowed to become wet, or
the plungers will stick inside the barrels.

a Measure 50 cm3 of 1M hydrochloric acid using one of the measuring cylinders. Pour the acid into the 100
cm3 conical flask.
b Set up the apparatus as shown in the diagram. Half fill the trough or bowl with water.
c Fill the other measuring cylinder with water, and make sure that it stays filled with water when you turn it upside
d When you are ready, add a 3 cm strip of magnesium ribbon to the flask, put the bung back into the flask as
quickly as you can, and start the stopwatch.
e Record the volume of hydrogen gas given off at suitable intervals (eg 10 seconds). Continue timing until no more
gas appears to be given off.

Teaching notes
The equation for the reaction is:
magnesium + hydrochloric acid → magnesium chloride + hydrogen
Mg(s) + 2HCl(aq) → MgCl2(aq) + H2(g)
Students follow the rate of reaction between magnesium and the acid, by measuring the amount of gas produced
at 10 second intervals.

3 cm of magnesium ribbon typically has a mass of 0.04 g and yields 40 cm 3 of hydrogen when reacted with excess
acid. 50 cm3 of 1M hydrochloric acid is a six-fold excess of acid.
In this reaction, the magnesium and acid are gradually used up. However the acid is in excess, so it is mainly the
loss of magnesium (surface area becomes smaller) that causes the change in the rate.

If a graph of volume (y-axis) against time (x-axis) is drawn, the slope of the graph is steepest at the beginning.
This shows that the reaction is fastest at the start. As the magnesium is used up, the rate falls. This can be seen
on the graph, as the slope becomes less steep and then levels out when the reaction has stopped (when no more
gas is produced).

The reaction is exothermic, but the dilute acid is in excess and the rise in temperature is only of the order of 3.5˚C.
There is some acceleration of the reaction rate due to the rise in temperature. Some students might notice the
flask becoming slightly warm and they could be asked how this would affect the rate of reaction, and how they
might adapt the experiment to make it a ‘fair test’.