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Mixtures, compounds and elements

Module by: Free High School Science Texts Project. E-mail the author

Introduction

Figure 1

All the objects that we see in the world around us, are made of matter. Matter makes up the air we breathe, the ground we walk on, the food we eat and the animals and plants that live around us. Even our own human bodies are made of matter!

Different objects can be made of different types of matter, or materials. For example, a cupboard (an object) is made of wood, nails and hinges (the materials). The properties of the materials will affect the properties of the object. In the example of the cupboard, the strength of the wood and metals make the cupboard strong and durable. In the same way, the raincoats that you wear during bad weather, are made of a material that is waterproof. The electrical wires in your home are made of metal because metals are a type of material that is able to conduct electricity. It is very important to understand the properties of materials, so that we can use them in our homes, in industry and in other applications. In this chapter, we will be looking at different types of materials and their properties.

The diagram below shows one way in which matter can be classified (grouped) according to its different properties. As you read further in this chapter, you will see that there are also other ways of classifying materials, for example according to whether or not they are good electrical conductors.

Figure 2: The classification of matter
Figure 2 (CG10C1_001.png)

Mixtures

We see mixtures all the time in our everyday lives. A stew, for example, is a mixture of different foods such as meat and vegetables; sea water is a mixture of water, salt and other substances, and air is a mixture of gases such as carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen.

Definition 1: Mixture

A mixture is a combination of two or more substances, where these substances are not bonded (or joined) to each other.

In a mixture, the substances that make up the mixture:

  • are not in a fixed ratio Imagine, for example, that you have a 250 ml beaker of water. It doesn't matter whether you add 20 g, 40 g, 100 g or any other mass of sand to the water; it will still be called a mixture of sand and water.
  • keep their physical properties In the example we used of the sand and water, neither of these substances has changed in any way when they are mixed together. Even though the sand is in water, it still has the same properties as when it was out of the water.
  • can be separated by mechanical means To separate something by 'mechanical means', means that there is no chemical process involved. In our sand and water example, it is possible to separate the mixture by simply pouring the water through a filter. Something physical is done to the mixture, rather than something chemical.

Some other examples of mixtures include blood (a mixture of blood cells, platelets and plasma), steel (a mixture of iron and other materials) and the gold that is used to make jewellery. The gold in jewellery is not pure gold but is a mixture of metals. The amount of gold in the jewellery is measured in karats (24 karat would be pure gold, while 18 karat is only 75% gold).

We can group mixtures further by dividing them into those that are heterogeneous and those that are homogeneous.

Heterogeneous mixtures

A heterogeneous mixture does not have a definite composition. Think of a pizza, that has a topping of cheese, tomato, mushrooms and peppers (the topping is a mixture). Each slice will probably be slightly different from the next because the toppings (the tomato, cheese, mushrooms and peppers) are not evenly distributed. Another example would be granite, a type of rock. Granite is made up of lots of different mineral substances including quartz and feldspar. But these minerals are not spread evenly through the rock and so some parts of the rock may have more quartz than others. Another example is a mixture of oil and water. Although you may add one substance to the other, they will stay separate in the mixture. We say that these heterogeneous mixtures are non-uniform, in other words they are not exactly the same throughout.

Definition 2: Heterogeneous mixture

A heterogeneous mixture is one that is non-uniform and the different components of the mixture can be seen.

Homogeneous mixtures

A homogeneous mixture has a definite composition, and specific properties. In a homogeneous mixture, the different parts cannot be seen. A solution of salt dissolved in water is an example of a homogeneous mixture. When the salt dissolves, it will spread evenly through the water so that all parts of the solution are the same, and you can no longer see the salt as being separate from the water. Think also of a powdered drink that you mix with water. Provided you give the container a good shake after you have added the powder to the water, the drink will have the same sweet taste for anyone who drinks it, it won't matter whether they take a sip from the top or from the bottom. The air we breathe is another example of a homogeneous mixture since it is made up of different gases which are in a constant ratio, and which can't be distinguished from each other.

Definition 3: Homogeneous mixture

A homogeneous mixture is one that is uniform, and where the different components of the mixture cannot be seen.

An alloy is a homogeneous mixture of two or more elements, at least one of which is a metal, where the resulting material has metallic properties. Alloys are usually made to improve the properties of the elements that make them up. For example steel is much stronger than iron (which is the main component of steel).

Separating mixtures

Sometimes it is important to be able to separate a mixture. There are lots of different ways to do this. These are some examples:

  • Filtration A piece of filter paper in a funnel can be used to separate a mixture of sand and water.
  • Heating / evaporation Heating a solution causes the liquid (normally water) to evaporate, leaving the other (solid) part of the mixture behind. You can try this using a salt solution.
  • Centrifugation This is a laboratory process which uses the centrifugal force of spinning objects to separate out the heavier substances from a mixture. This process is used to separate the cells and plasma in blood. When the test tubes that hold the blood are spun round in the machine, the heavier cells sink to the bottom of the test tube. Can you think of a reason why it might be important to have a way of separating blood in this way?
  • Dialysis This is an interesting way of separating a mixture because it can be used in some important applications. Dialysis works using a process called diffusion. Diffusion takes place when one substance in a mixture moves from an area where it has a high concentration to an area where its concentration is lower. When this movement takes place across a semi-permeable membrane it is called osmosis. A semi-permeable membrane is a barrier that lets some things move across it, but not others. This process is very important for people whose kidneys are not functioning properly, an illness called renal failure.

Note: Interesting Fact :

Normally, healthy kidneys remove waste products from the blood. When a person has renal failure, their kidneys cannot do this any more, and this can be life-threatening. Using dialysis, the blood of the patient flows on one side of a semi-permeable membrane. On the other side there will be a fluid that has no waste products but lots of other important substances such as potassium ions (K+) that the person will need. Waste products from the blood diffuse from where their concentration is high (i.e. in the person's blood) into the 'clean' fluid on the other side of the membrane. The potassium ions will move in the opposite direction from the fluid into the blood. Through this process, waste products are taken out of the blood so that the person stays healthy.

Investigation : The separation of a salt solution

Aim:

To demonstrate that a homogeneous salt solution can be separated using physical methods.

Apparatus:

glass beaker, salt, water, retort stand, bunsen burner.

Method:

  1. Pour a small amount of water (about 20 ml) into a beaker.
  2. Measure a teaspoon of salt and pour this into the water.
  3. Stir until the salt dissolves completely. This is now called a salt solution. This salt solution is a homogeneous mixture.
  4. Place the beaker on a retort stand over a bunsen burner and heat gently. You should increase the heat until the water almost boils.
  5. Watch the beaker until all the water has evaporated. What do you see in the beaker?

Figure 3
Figure 3 (CG10C1_002.png)

Results:

The water evaporates from the beaker and tiny grains of salt remain at the bottom. (You may also observe grains of salt on the walls of the beaker.)

Conclusion:

The salt solution, which is a homogeneous mixture of salt and water, has been separated using heating and evaporation.

Discussion : Separating mixtures

Work in groups of 3-4

Imagine that you have been given a container which holds a mixture of sand, iron filings (small pieces of iron metal), salt and small stones of different sizes. Is this a homogeneous or a heterogeneous mixture? In your group, discuss how you would go about separating this mixture into the four materials that it contains.

Mixtures

  1. Which of the following substances are mixtures?
    1. tap water
    2. brass (an alloy of copper and zinc)
    3. concrete
    4. aluminium
    5. Coca cola
    6. distilled water
  2. In each of the examples above, say whether the mixture is homogeneous or heterogeneous

Click here for the solution

Pure Substances: Elements and Compounds

Any material that is not a mixture, is called a pure substance. Pure substances include elements and compounds. It is much more difficult to break down pure substances into their parts, and complex chemical methods are needed to do this.

Elements

An element is a chemical substance that can't be divided or changed into other chemical substances by any ordinary chemical means. The smallest unit of an element is the atom.

Definition 4: Element

An element is a substance that cannot be broken down into other substances through chemical means.

There are 112 officially named elements and about 118 known elements. Most of these are natural, but some are man-made. The elements we know are represented in the Periodic Table of the Elements, where each element is abbreviated to a chemical symbol. Examples of elements are magnesium (Mg), hydrogen (H), oxygen (O) and carbon (C). On the Periodic Table you will notice that some of the abbreviations do not seem to match the elements they represent. The element iron, for example, has the chemical formula Fe. This is because the elements were originally given Latin names. Iron has the abbreviation Fe because its Latin name is 'ferrum'. In the same way, sodium's Latin name is 'natrium' (Na) and gold's is 'aurum' (Au).

Compounds

A compound is a chemical substance that forms when two or more elements combine in a fixed ratio. Water (H2O), for example, is a compound that is made up of two hydrogen atoms for every one oxygen atom. Sodium chloride (NaCl) is a compound made up of one sodium atom for every chlorine atom. An important characteristic of a compound is that it has a chemical formula, which describes the ratio in which the atoms of each element in the compound occur.

Definition 5: Compound

A substance made up of two or more elements that are joined together in a fixed ratio.

Figure 4 might help you to understand the difference between the terms element, mixture and compound. Iron (Fe) and sulphur (S) are two elements. When they are added together, they form a mixture of iron and sulphur. The iron and sulphur are not joined together. However, if the mixture is heated, a new compound is formed, which is called iron sulphide (FeS). In this compound, the iron and sulphur are joined to each other in a ratio of 1:1. In other words, one atom of iron is joined to one atom of sulphur in the compound iron sulphide.

Figure 4: Understanding the difference between a mixture and a compound
Figure 4 (CG10C1_003.png)

Elements, mixtures and compounds

  1. In the following table, tick whether each of the substances listed is a mixture or a pure substance. If it is a mixture, also say whether it is a homogeneous or heterogeneous mixture.
    Table 1
    SubstanceMixture or pureHomogeneous or heterogeneous mixture
    fizzy colddrink  
    steel  
    oxygen  
    iron filings  
    smoke  
    limestone (CaCO3)  

    Click here for the solution

  2. In each of the following cases, say whether the substance is an element, a mixture or a compound.
    1. Cu
    2. iron and sulphur
    3. Al
    4. H2SO4
    5. SO3

Click here for the solution

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