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REDOX in Plain English

Phillip Cook, EDCI 566 Spring 2012

Overview: REDOX in Plain English is designed to communicate the basic concepts of oxidation and reduction, through the macro, nano and symbolic languages of chemistry. The nanoscopic portion of the story is told much in the style of CommonCraft videos. The overall narrative is based off of a research experience which occurred as part of a Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship I received in the summer of 2011.

Fig. 1: A symbolic representation of a Carbon-12 atom

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Opening Scene

The rst scene sets the storyline for the digital story; understanding the role of chemistry in our lives and our world matters. Narrative: In the fall of 2010, I began writing a draft of a proposal for a Lilly Grant to study energy. I was particularly interested in the role of solar energy and our nations energy infrastructure. I wanted to explore and learn. Transitions: dissolve between photos

Fig. 2: The open desert near Albuquerque, NM

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The Proposal

Narrative My grant proposal set the stage for the summer to come: I proposed to travel to Sandia Laboratories to study uses of solar energy, as well as to an operational solar power facility in Boulder City, Nevada. My goal: dive in to the world and science of current solar energy research. I nished my proposal in early November. Notications would not be made until the end of March in 2011.
Fig. 3: Solar Stirling Engines at Sandia Labs in NM

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Narrative: I received
my acceptance into the Teacher Creativity Fellowship grant program late in March of 2011. Now to plan the details and start investigating!

Image from http://think.faesthetic.com/archives/1281

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Narrative: Mid June of 2011, I ew out to Albuquerque, NM. I received my site badge, and made my way to the National Solar Thermal Test Facility on site at Sandia Government Laboratories. While on site at Sandia labs, I had the opportunity to participate in a solar thermal test where scientists where attempting to convert carbon dioxide back into carbon monoxide, which could then be processed back into a viable fuel.
Fig. 4: Setting up a solar thermal test involving redox

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The Solar Thermal Test

Narrative: The test utilized a concentrating disk that focused solar light onto a very small area. This concentrated solar would serve to reduce carbon from a +4 (in CO2) to a +2 state (in CO).

Fig. 5: Solar concentrator used in the redox experiment

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The Reaction

Narrative: Carbon needs a partner in oxidation reduction and in this case, the partner was Cerium in Cerium (IV) Oxide. The cerium oxide, shown as orange ngers in a ceramic disc, would be oxidized. This entire process, carbon being reduced while cerium is oxidized, would occur only when the reaction vessel had reached temperatures around 1450 C (That is seriously HOT!). In this experiment, it was the thermal energy provided by the sun that allowed the process of oxidation and reduction to occur.

Fig. 6: Cerium (IV) Oxide ngers projecting from a ceramic disc

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What is REDOX?

Narrative: Now, you may be wondering what oxidationreduction, or REDOX, is. Essentially, redox involves the transfer of electrons. The species that is oxidized loses one or more electrons to the species that is reduced, which gains one or more electrons. This loss and gain of electrons is a fundamental characteristic of much of the chemistry we have explored in class thus far. Image from http://science.nayland.school.nz/SimonPa/images/en_oxidation_reduction[1].jpg
Fig. 7: Graphic of oxidation reduction

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REDOX Animation

NOTE: This portion will utilize paper models to illustrate the oxidation reduction process at the nanoscale. Focus should be on Cerium and Carbon, the two species that change oxidation state. Narrative: Applying the concepts of REDOX to the solar test, consider this: in order for carbon to be reduced, it must gain electrons (two in this case). These electrons come from Ceriums valence shell, causing Cerium to be oxidized from Cerium (II) to Cerium (IV). This process requires both compounds to have tremendous initial energy to occur, which is why concentrated solar energy is used to facilitate the process. Notice how whenever you have oxidation, you always have reduction. We cant create or destroy matter, so we have to account for any electrons lost or gained!

Fig. 8: The redox equation from the solar thermal test

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Why should I care?

Narrative: Aside from being a great story to tell, my Sandia experience brings to light a larger problem that we need to address: our energy needs. Fossil fuels provide limited energy sources, and we need to consider and understand other pathways to generate the energy that we rely upon. Being scientically literate calls for us to understand the world around us, the problems it faces, and all possible solutions. While solar may not solve all our energy woes, it does certainly provide a unique opportunity to address a portion of our energy needs!

Image from http://ihumanable.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/shrugging.jpg

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Supporting Example

NOTE: This portion may be shown with the story, or done as a demonstration with the class. The goal with this example is to allow students an opportunity to transfer their understanding from the video into a new, yet related, situation

Narrative: In our study of chemistry, we have observed several instances where chemicals react. In this case, elemental magnesium metal is heated to its combustion point, and then allowed to react with solid carbon dioxide. Notice that there is a tremendous amount of energy released in this process as evidenced by the emission of light and thermal energy. After the reaction has concluded, a white crystalline residue is all that remains. As a challenge, work with your group members to (I) Determine the overall chemical equation, (II) Determine the species that is oxidized, and the species that is reduced. Be ready to defend your groups ideas!

Fig. 9: Magnesium reacting with Carbon Dioxide.

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