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45117793-Course-Book

45117793-Course-Book

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We can differentiate between pure substances, elements and compounds,
according to how easily they can be decomposed. Elements, such as zinc, cannot
be decomposed into simpler substances. If solid zinc is heated, it will melt to form
liquid zinc and, at suffciently high temperatures, will boil to form gaseous zinc.

Zn(s) → Zn(l) → Zn(g)

These changes are physical changes. The zinc atoms have moved relative to each
other but they are still the same unaltered zinc atoms.

However, under certain conditions, compounds can be decomposed into their
constituent elements or simpler compounds. This decomposition can be brought
about by adding energy as heat, light or electricity.

Figure 4.3 Mercury(II) oxide decomposes when heated to form mercury metal and oxygen gas.

oxygen gas escapes
mercury on side
of test tube

CHAPTER 4: Chemical change

71

Thermal decomposition

The process by which heat breaks compounds down into simpler substances is
known as thermal decomposition. In this process, which is a type of chemical
change, the arrangement of particles in the compounds changes. The particles
are rearranged to form different compounds or elements.

The compound mercury(II) oxide, when heated strongly, decomposes into the
elements mercury and oxygen (Figure 4.3).

2HgO(s) → 2Hg(l) + O

2(g)

This reaction is a chemical change in which the actual substances present have
been altered. The reaction has changed the nature and arrangement of the
particles involved. The Hg2+

ions that were arranged with O2–

ions in the solid

HgO have changed to Hg atoms in liquid mercury. Similarly, the O2–

ions that

were in the HgO solid have changed to oxygen atoms covalently bonded in O

2

molecules. It should be noted, however, that no atoms have been formed or
destroyed in this process. The form of the atoms, such as Hg atoms or Hg2+
ions, have changed but the atoms have been conserved.

Another compound, copper(II) carbonate, decomposes when strongly heated to
form different compounds—copper(II) oxide and carbon dioxide.

CuCO

3(s) → CuO(s) + CO

2(g)

Again in this process the nature and arrangement of particles has changed.
Solid CuCO

3 contains Cu2+

ions and CO

3

2−

ions. After the reaction, the Cu2+

ions

remain but are now arranged with O2–

ions in solid CuO, and CO

2 gas molecules

have been produced.

Figure 4.4 Thermal decomposition of bicarb soda causes a cake to rise while cooking.

Electrode

Hydrogen
gas

Oxygen
gas

Water

Direct-current
source

+ –

Figure 4.5 The decomposition of water
by electrolysis, a chemical change

72

MODULE 1: The chemical Earth

Our knowledge of compounds and the ease with which they can be decomposed
by heat is used every day. In baking, the thermal decomposition of bicarb soda
(sodium hydrogencarbonate) to produce carbon dioxide gas is used to make cakes
rise when they cook.

2NaHCO

3(s) → Na

2CO

3(s) + CO

2(g) + H

2O(g)

Similarly, lime (calcium oxide), which is used as a treatment for acidic soils,
is produced by the thermal decomposition of limestone (calcium carbonate).

CaCO

3(s) → CaO(s) + CO

2(g)

Decomposition by electrical energy and light energy

Other forms of energy such as electricity and light may also bring about
the decomposition of compounds. As discussed in Unit 4.1, water can be
decomposed into the elements hydrogen and oxygen if an electric current
is passed through it (see Figure 4.5). This is called electrolysis. The
reaction is:

2H

2O(l) → 2H

2(g) + O

2(g)

Many other substances can be decomposed in this way. In fact, it was
the process of electrolysis that greatly increased our ability to extract
metals from their ores. Metals such as aluminium and sodium can only be
extracted from their ores in this way.

Light energy can also cause the decomposition of some compounds. For
example, silver salts such as silver chloride decompose when exposed to
light, to produce silver metal. The use of silver bromide in black and white
photographic flm depends on this decomposition reaction. In this process,
light causes the following decomposition reaction to occur:

AgBr(s)

Ag(s)

Br(g)

2

+1
2

The Ag+

ions are converted to Ag atoms. These form a ‘latent’ image, which
is enhanced when the photographic flm is developed.

Many dyes and pharmaceutical products are also ‘light sensitive’ and will
undergo decomposition if exposed to light. It is for this reason that many of
these substances are stored in dark glass or opaque containers.

Review exercise 4.4

CHAPTER 4: Chemical change

73

1 Describe what is meant by the term ‘chemical decomposition’. Identify whether this an example of a
physical or chemical change.

2 a Compare the boiling and electrolysis of water in terms of the substances present ‘before’ and ‘after’.

b Identify the processes in part a as physical change or chemical change, and explain your choice.

3 Explain how sodium hydrogencarbonate can make a cake rise.

4 Identify the following processes as physical change or chemical decomposition:

a the gradual reaction of hydrogen peroxide to form water and oxygen

b the melting of ice

c the evaporation of kerosene

d the electrolysis of zinc iodide to form zinc and iodine.

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