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Elements, Compounds and Mixtures

Pure Substances and Mixtures

All matter can be classified as either pure substances or mixtures. Examples of pure substances include gold, oxygen, water, carbon dioxide, glucose. Many other substances are classified as mixtures. Sea water is a mixture because it contains water, salt, magnesium, gold, and many other substances. The air we breathe is a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, argon, carbon dioxide, and several other gases. Soil is a variety of many substances that differs from one region to another.

A pure gold bar is composed entirely of gold atoms and nothing else. If you were to cut a gold bar in half, then half again, and again, and kept on going, you would never obtain anything more than a large number of gold atoms. Similarly so for any pure metal. This holds true for some gases and liquids, too. Pure oxygen comprises nothing more than oxygen molecules, each of which consists of two oxygen atoms. Mercury, which is often found in thermometers, is a pure liquid which contains only mercury atoms.

Oxygen molecules

Helium atoms

All of these examples consist of only one kind of atom, be it gold atoms, oxygen atoms or mercury atoms. These substances are thus referred to as elements. Elements can be described as being pure substances which cannot be broken down into other substances by conventional chemical means.

A compound is a pure substance that is made up of two or more elements. Almost everyone knows that pure water has the formula H2O. This is because water molecules are composed of two atoms of hydrogen joined to one atom of oxygen. Pure water contains no other substances, but it can be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen by simple chemical procedures.

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Carbon dioxide is another example of a compound. As the name suggests, a molecule of carbon dioxide consists of one atom of carbon and two atoms of oxygen.

water molecules

carbon dioxide molecules

A more complicated example is glucose, whose molecules are composed of six carbon atoms, twelve hydrogen atoms and six oxygen atoms. Nevertheless, glucose is a pure substance - it can however be broken down into its component elements. All of these examples show that different elements can be combined together in fixed proportions to create new substances - new substances that display different properties from the original elements from which they are formed.

Dissolving some glucose in some water would result in a mixture. The glucose and the water are still present - and they have not combined together to form a new substance with different properties - they are just thoroughly and completely mixed in the same container. These need not be in fixed proportions, either. One spoon of glucose or ten spoons still produces a water/glucose mixture (just that one is sweeter than the other!). Air is another mixture. All the different gases in the atmosphere do not move around combining with each other and forming new substances. They exist simply as a mixture, each individual gas acting independently of the others. Similarly for sea-water, with all the vast array of substances dissolved in that mixture.

A mixture of substances All of these examples are examples of solutions: one or more substances dissolved in another, more plentiful, substance. Solutions are homogeneous mixtures. If a homogeneous mixture is divided several times, its composition will always remain constant. The air we breathe is approximately 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% argon. If a sample of air was divided into several smaller samples of air, then all of these smaller samples would still contain 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% argon. On the other hand, heterogeneous mixtures are not thoroughly and consistently mixed. Examples of these include soil, granite (and indeed many other minerals) and sewage.

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Separation of Mixtures
Filtration and Crystallisation Once some salt and some charcoal have been intimately mixed, it is very difficult to separate one from the other by simply dividing the mixture. However, if you were to add some water to the mixture, the salt would of course dissolve whereas the charcoal would not. You could then filter the mixture through a piece of filter paper or cloth, thus separating the charcoal as the salty water drained through. This procedure is known as filtration. Once you have thoroughly dried the charcoal, you will have obtained a pure substance from a mixture. However, you are then left with a salty water mixture. The salt is completely dissolved, so you cannot recover the salt simply by filtering. To separate the salt from the water, you must heat the mixture so that most of the water boils away. Upon cooling, crystals of salt will crystallise out of the remaining solution. These crystals can then be separated from the remaining water by filtration.

Separation of solid salt from a salt solution requires filtration and crystallisation. Distillation The procedures detailed above are fine for separating solids that dont dissolve in a particular liquid (filtration) and for solids that do dissolve in the liquid (crystallisation). They cannot be used when you have one liquid dissolved in another liquid.

(Image: Brown and LeMay et al (2010) Chemistry: The central science: A broad perspective. Frenchs Forest: Pearson. Figure 1.8) SCC1123 Chemistry for the Life Sciences Page 3

In situations such as this, we must take advantage of the differing physical properties of the two (or more) liquids. Two different liquids will usually have different boiling points. Therefore, if a mixture of the two liquids is carefully heated, the liquid with the lowest boiling point will vaporise more readily. The resultant vapours are collected, cooled and condensed back to liquid - in this way it is often possible to separate a mixture of two or more liquids from one another. This process is known as distillation. Chromatography Chromatography is yet another separation procedure. The simplest example, that of column chromatography (see diagram on the right), involves filling a glass column with an inactive solid material - often aluminium oxide. The mixture of substances that you wish to separate is then poured, as a solution, carefully into the top of this column. An inactive liquid is then used to wash the mixture slowly through the column. The individual components of the mixture will wash through the column at different rates. Some will be slightly attracted to the aluminium oxide, and they will flow more slowly through the column. Other components will not be attracted to the aluminium oxide and will quickly flow through the column. The separated components are then collected as they drain out of the bottom of the glass column.

Changes - Physical, Chemical & Nuclear

Physical Changes The simplest example is water. An ice cube is simply frozen water - H2O at 0 oC or less. If you take an ice cube out of the freezer and put it on the bench it will melt. The resultant puddle is still water - still H2O - it has just changed into its liquid state. If this water is collected and boiled in a kettle it turns to steam. Again, this is still H2O, it is just in a different physical state.

(Image: Brown and LeMay et al (2010) Chemistry: The central science: A broad perspective. Frenchs Forest: Pearson. Figure 1.2) SCC1123 Chemistry for the Life Sciences Page 4

We can also represent the changes of state of water using chemical symbols: H2O (s) H2O (l) H2O (g)

(s), (l) and (g) stand for solid, liquid and gas, respectively. The important thing to remember is that no new substance has been formed, that is, the water has not been transformed into something else. The entire Celsius scale of measuring temperatures is based upon the physical changes of water. The temperature at which water freezes was called 0 oC, and the temperature at which it boils was called 100 oC. Another example is that of taking some sugar and dissolving it in water. Sugar has the chemical name of sucrose and has the formula C12H22O11. Once dissolved in water, the sugar is still there. The water tastes sweet indicating that the sugar has not turned into something else, it is simply intimately mixed into the water. We now have an aqueous solution of sugar, and this change can be represented as follows: C12H22O11 (s) C12H22O11 (aq) Chemical Changes Alternatively, chemical changes do involve changing one substance into another, new substance. One example is the burning of natural gas (methane, CH4) which results in the production of new substances carbon dioxide and water, as follows:

CH4 (g) + methane

2 O2 (g) oxygen

CO2 (g) + 2 H2O (l) carbon dioxide water

In the reaction below, hydrogen peroxide molecules (H2O2) decompose to produce water molecules (H2O) and oxygen molecules (O2).

(Image: Seager and Slabaugh (2011) Chemistry for Today: General, Organic and Biochemistry. 7 Edition. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole. Figure 5.3)


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Nuclear Changes Atoms can be transformed from one type into another only in nuclear reactions. In nuclear reactors, uranium is transformed into other elements such as barium and krypton. In hydrogen bombs, hydrogen is transformed into helium. These processes usually produce vast amounts of energy and radioactive emissions, and are not considered to be chemical reactions.

Elements and their Symbols

There are more than 100 known elements. Some of these have been artificially made by nuclear reactions in advanced laboratories, but 90 of them occur naturally on Earth. All the elements have unique symbols to identify them. We often write C instead of carbon, O instead of oxygen, and so on. However, with more than 100 elements, we would soon run out of single letters, so most elements are represented by two letters, e.g.: He for helium, Cl for chlorine, and so on. It is very important that the second letter be written in lower case (and the first letter is a capital letter). Otherwise there would be confusion between cobalt, Co, an element, and carbon monoxide, CO, a compound formed from carbon and oxygen. Some of the elements have been known since ancient times and were originally given Latin names. Although we now refer to them by their English names, some of the Latin symbols have been retained. Examples include Fe for iron (ferrum), Na for sodium (natrium) and Hg for mercury (hydrargyrum). You dont need to memorise all elements in the periodic table, but it is important that you memorise the following table of the most common elements. Name aluminium argon barium bromine calcium carbon chlorine chromium copper fluorine gold helium hydrogen iodine iron lead Symbol Al Ar Ba Br Ca C Cl Cr Cu F Au He H I Fe Pb Name magnesium manganese mercury neon nickel nitrogen oxygen phosphorus potassium silicon silver sodium sulfur tin uranium zinc Symbol Mg Mn Hg Ne Ni N O P K Si Ag Na S Sn U Zn

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