Professor Hanington’s Speaking of Science: Acids and bases | Lifestyles

Talking to my daughter Hannah the other day about her chemistry class at Dartmouth, it seems they start out on Chapter 4 in their textbook, completely jumping over the first several that deal with units, balancing equations, and stoichiometry. It’s a good thing she took chemistry with Mr. Meisner at Elko High School because that prepared her to glide right in.

The topic we were discussing was something called “acid and base equilibrium” and it deals with the concept of whether an acid is termed strong or weak and the calculation of pH when they are mixed with bases (which also can be strong or weak). A strong substance is one that ionizes completely in water yielding jillions of cations and anions that are ready to react with anything they come in contact with. For example, when one drops small strips of zinc metal into hydrochloric acid, the resulting reaction yields volumes of hydrogen gas:

In fact, I performed this experiment in class using an old fashioned glass soda bottle and inflated a balloon from the products that rose swiftly to the ceiling when released. Once, when demonstrating how flammable hydrogen gas is, along with discussion of the Hindenburg Zeppelin disaster, I neatly singed the hair on the right side of my head touching a Bunsen Burner to the balloon. I think the smudge is still on the ceiling in Lundberg 123.


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