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Some sample reactions
The catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide
This is a simple example of measuring the initial rate of a reaction producing a gas.
A simple set-up to do this might be:
The reason for the weighing bottle containing the catalyst is to prevent introducing errors at the beginning of the experiment. Since this is the part of the reaction you are most interested in, introducing errors here would be stupid!
You have to find a way of adding the catalyst to the hydrogen peroxide solution without changing the volume of gas collected. If you added it to the flask using a spatula, and then quickly put the bung in, you might lose some gas before you got the bung in. Alternatively, as you pushed the bung in, you might force some air into the measuring cylinder. Either way, it makes your results meaningless.
To start the reaction, you just need to shake the flask so that the weighing bottle falls over, and then continue shaking to make sure the catalyst mixes evenly with the solution.
You could also use a special flask with a divided bottom, with the catalyst in one side, and the hydrogen peroxide solution in the other. They are easy to mix by tipping the flask.
If you use a 10 cm3 measuring cylinder, initially full of water, you can reasonably accurately record the time taken to collect a small fixed volume of gas.
You could, of course, use a small gas syringe instead.
If you were looking at the effect of the concentration of hydrogen peroxide on the rate, then you would have to change its concentration, but keep everything else constant.
The temperature would have to be kept constant, so would the total volume of the solution and the mass of manganese(IV) oxide. You would also have to be sure that the manganese(IV) oxide used always came from the same bottle so that its state of division was always the same.
You could, of course, use much the same apparatus to find out what happened if you varied the temperature, or the mass of the catalyst, or the state of division of the catalyst.
The thiosulphate-acid reaction
If you add dilute hydrochloric acid to sodium thiosulphate solution, you get the slow formation of a pale yellow precipitate of sulphur.
There is a very simple, but very effective, way of measuring the time taken for a small fixed amount of precipitate to form. Stand the flask on a piece of paper with a cross drawn on it, and then look down through the solution until the cross disappears.
So . . . you put a known volume of sodium thiosulphate solution in a flask. Then you add a small known volume of dilute hydrochloric acid, start timing, swirl the flask to mix everything up, and stand it on the paper with the cross on. Time how long it takes for the cross to disappear.
Then repeat using a smaller volume of sodium thiosulphate, but topped up to the same original volume with water. Everything else should be exactly as before.
If you started with, say, 50 cm3 of sodium thiosulphate solution, you would repeat the experiment with perhaps, 40, 30, 20, 15 and 10 cm3 - each time made up to a total of 50 cm3 with water.
The actual concentration of the sodium thiosulphate doesn't have to be known. In each case, you could record its relative concentration. The solution with 40 cm3 of sodium thiosulphate solution plus 10 cm3 of water has a concentration which is 80% of the original one, for example. The one with 10 cm3 of sodium thiosulphate solution plus 40 cm3 of water has a concentration which is 20% of the original one.
When you came to plotting a rate against concentration graph, as we looked at further up the page, you would plot 1/t as a measure of the rate, and volume of sodium thiosulphate solution as a measure of concentration. Alternatively, you could plot relative concentrations - from, say, 20% to 100%. It doesn't actually matter - the shape of the graph will be identical.
You could also look at the effect of temperature on this reaction, by warming the sodium thiosulphate solution before you added the acid. Take the temperature after adding the acid, though, because the cold acid will cool the solution slightly.
This time you would change the temperature between experiments, but keep everything else constant. To get reasonable times, you would have to use a diluted version of your sodium thiosulphate solution. Using the full strength solution hot will produce enough precipitate to hide the cross almost instantly.
Iodine clock reactions
There are several reactions which go under the name "iodine clock". They are all reactions which give iodine as one of the products. This is the simplest of them, but only because it involves the most familiar reagents.
The reaction we are looking at is the oxidation of iodide ions by hydrogen peroxide under acidic conditions.
The iodine is formed first as a pale yellow solution darkening to orange and then dark red, before dark grey solid iodine is precipitated.
There is a very clever way of picking out a when a particular very small amount of iodine has been formed.
Iodine reacts with starch solution to give a very deep blue solution. If you added some starch solution to the reaction above, as soon as the first trace of iodine was formed, the solution would turn blue. That doesn't actually help!
However, iodine also reacts with sodium thiosulphate solution.
If you add a very small amount of sodium thiosulphate solution to your reaction mixture (including the starch solution), it will react with the iodine that is initially produced, and so the iodine won't affect the starch, and you won't get any blue colour.
However, when that small amount of sodium thiosulphate has been used up, there is nothing to stop the next lot of iodine produced from reacting with the starch. The mixture suddenly goes blue.