To Bubble or not to Bubble

October 31, 2008
By Hannah Lane, Auburn, MA

I uneasily arrived at my chemistry class Wednesday morning with mixed feelings of anticipation. According to our enthusiastic teacher, who absolutely adored chemistry, today was “lab” day and we were going to perform an interesting experiment. Because we were learning about elements and how to classify them, the experiment would presumably be about how to test whether an element is covalent or ionic by dissolving it in water. Earlier in the week we had learned that the definition of an ionic element is something that conducts electricity when dissolved in water. A covalent compound doesn’t conduct electricity when dissolved in water. What a lot to remember!
Soon I had gathered all the necessary supplies, and began the experiment, which my chemistry book had entitled “Electrical conductivity of compounds dissolved in water.” Although the title sounded a bit extreme and dreadfully complicated, I summoned up all my courage and proceeded with the experimentation. Carefully, I filled a beaker with distilled water. After this, I attached a piece of wire to both of the battery posts on a 9-volt battery. This unfortunately, took up a considerable amount of time due to the fact that even with tape they stubbornly refused to stay put. I was in hysterics! The wires must be firmly touching the battery posts in order to make an electrical currant, which I definitely needed for this experiment. Finally I got them to hold, and nervously put both of the wire ends into the water. After few minutes and a couple seconds, nothing had happened and I began to feel a bit skeptical of the whole thing. If this experiment was suppose to teach me something, I resolved to keep going till it did!
The next step required adding a teaspoon of baking soda to the distilled water, which I did. Insipidly, I stirred it around in the beaker and again submerged the stubborn wire ends into the interesting mixture. Somewhat apprehensively I waited. my efforts were rewarded! I saw almost immediately that bubbles were beginning to fizzle out from the ends of the wire and bubbling into the water. At last something worthwhile was finally happening and it was pretty cool too! Joyously I spent some time watching the minuscule bubbles swirl around the submerged wire ends because it was really amazing to see something, where a few moments ago there had been nothing. I was actually learning something! By now I had figured out that the bubbles were a result of the electricity flowing through the wire and reacting with the baking soda. According to the definition this meant that the baking soda was ionic. While I was absolutely fascinated by it, I knew that Alas, all good things must come to an end sometime. So after I had amused myself with the fizzling bubbles far longer than was really necessary, I dumped the whole concoction down the sink and proceeded with the rest of the experiment.
the third step involved refilling the glass beaker with distilled water again. I got right to it, but this time I added a teaspoon of sugar instead of baking soda. After again plunging the wire ends into the solution, I eagerly watched the glass in excited anticipation for some kind of fascinating phenomenon to occur. My hopes however, were dashed like a wave on a rock because five minutes later I was still staring at the beaker of water and sugar. Nothing extraordinary about that! No fizzling bubbles! No terrific explosion! Nothing! Despondently, I cleared up my mess and pondered the strange events, which had occurred in my simple little beaker. I calculated that since the sugar didn’t bubble, this must mean that it did not conduct electricity, which indicated that it was clearly a covalent compound.
In a brief conclusion, the baking Soda was ionic because it conducted electricity (the bubbles are a result of this), and the sugar water did nothing so they were covalent. Optimistically, I decided that all in all I had had a pretty interesting day and I would certainly go home a lot smarter than when I’d left. In the days that followed, I enthusiastically tested countless other household compounds. And, as I prepared to dunk the wires into the water I always repeated to myself a now favorite phrase, “To bubble or not to bubble, that is the question.”

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This article has 1 comment.

jmarie said...
on Nov. 17 2008 at 1:17 am
Science sure is a blast! All that knowledge, Oh dear...I feel to

discombobulated about the whole issue. I felt like a bubble ready to burst just reading about it. I'll stick to just blowing bubbles and Hannah can experimment for the next Dr. who knows what she might concoct!!! Great Job!


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