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Mole Calculations part 1

What is a mole?
The mole topic causes major problems for students. I think this is because most people have no idea
what a mole is. Even the name puts them off. So what is a mole?

a mole is simply mathematical, it is just a unit like grams, cm3 etc. It is there simply to
allow us to compare quantities and to do calculations.

For example, if you had 5g of a white powder lets say calcium carbonate and 5g of another white
powder, lets say magnesium sulphate, do you have the same amount of each? In everyday terms, a non-
scientist would say yes, 5g is 5g. But! In chemistry terms they are different amounts as they have
different molecular weights.

We actually have more of the calcium carbonate in terms of moles (0.05 versus 0.042). And this is the
knowledge we need to be able to do chemistry. If we based it solely on grams, wed be adding all the
wrong quantities in chemical reactions.

When doing calculations, think of the mole as the hub, everything revolves around the mole. Your aim
is to work out moles and then convert into a different unit. Thats it. Its just like converting grams to
ounces or stones, just different units.

Definitions

Yes, there are lots of wordy definitions of moles in chemistry books. You dont need to worry about this
except to be able to write it down in exams:

the amount of any substance that contains the same number of particles as there are in 12g of 12C.

A definition is needed because the mole is a standard unit. It has to be compared with something
otherwise it is meaningless. They picked carbon for the definition.

My advice would be not to think about this too much, as the wording tends to confuse students. It will
make more sense once you have gone through some of the calculations. It is one of those topics where
you need to be able to do it rather than understand it perfectly.

The end result of this definition, this time in plain English:

1 mole = the RFM (molecular weight) of an element or a compound

e.g. 1 mole of carbon = 12g, 1 mole of magnesium = 24g, 1 mole of CaCO3 = 100g
Basic mole calculations

So to get things started, you need to know two main equations:

1. number of moles = mass/RFM and 2. number of moles = concentration x volume

Anytime you do any question, you are more or less guaranteed to have to use one of those equations.

Equation 1 is used when you are given something in grams. Equation 2 is used when you have a solution.
The only thing you have to look out for is converting dm3 into cm3 to use equation 2.

All you then have to do is put in the numbers. I am not going to go into this here as we will have more
examples later. Also, you need to be able to rearrange simple equations like this in you sleep! So find a
way to do it or read the document Maths for Chemists, in which there is a lot on rearranging.

Gases

Along with the two equations above, you will also need another equation for gases. The key point is that:

1 mole of ANY gas occupies the SAME volume (24 dm3)

This is another of those strange concepts that students really struggle to understand. Again it is better
just to accept it.

This gives us the equation:

number of moles = volume/24

Again like equations 1 and 2 above, all you have to do is put in the numbers and be able to rearrange it.

We will look at using all these three equations in part 2 of the tutorial.

Avogadro
Another favourite that causes big confusion is this Avogadro thing. Its just a big number, approximately
6.02x1023. And another way of expressing moles.

Students often ask when do you need Avogadro? The truth is, not very often.

Avogadro is there to quantify things i.e. tell you the exact number of molecules or atoms or ions etc.
something has. So you use it when they ask how many.its the word many that is the clue. Or they
could say calculate the number of.
The big problem students have is that they dont understand that 6.02x1023 refers to any type of particle
and thats why I wrote molecules or atoms or ions above.

This explanation might be new to you, as students often dont have a clue about this even before exams.

When you talk about moles, you might say I have 0.65 moles of MgSO4 for example. This is fine. To
understand this section properly, what you are really saying is that you have 0.65 moles of MgSO4
molecules. But because 99% of the time we dont need to worry about Avogadro, we just say 0.65 moles
and leave it at that. Its the word molecules that is vital here.

Now the definition of Avogdaro is something like:

1 mole = 6.02x1023 atoms, ions, molecules etc.

So it really depends on the question.

If you want an equation, you can use:

number of moles = number of particles/6.02x1023

Example 1

How many molecules are there in 5g of MgSO4?

1. work out the number of moles.

As it is grams, its simply 5/120 using equation 1 from above 0.042 moles (of molecules)

2. multiply moles by Avogadro

We then need our Avogadro definition i.e. 1 mole of molecules = 6.02x1023 molecules

Therefore, 0.042 moles must contain 6.02x1023 x 0.042 = 2.53x1022 molecules

Example 2

How many atoms are there in 5g of MgSO4?

1. work out the number of moles.

As it is grams, its simply 5/120 using equation 1 from above 0.042 moles (of molecules)

2. multiply moles by Avogadro

We then need our Avogadro definition i.e. 1 mole of molecules = 6.02x1023 molecules
Therefore, 0.042 moles must contain 6.02x1023 x 0.042 = 2.53x1022 molecules

But this is no good as we want the number of atoms NOT molecules

3. multiply by the number of atoms

In MgSO4 there are 6 atoms: 1 Mg, 1 S and 4 O.

2.53x1022 x 6 = 1.52x1023 atoms

This can go on and on. They could have said how many oxygen atoms, in that case we multiply by four
instead of six.

The general format for these questions:

1. work out the number of moles

2. multiply by Avogadro

3. multiply by whatever they ask in the question i.e. molecules, ions, atoms