If chemistry were compared to a sport, then the study of atomic and molecular pr

operties, along with learning about the elements and how they relate on the peri
odic table, would be like going to practice. Learning about chemical reactions,
which includes observing them and sometimes producing them in a laboratory situa
tion, is like stepping out onto the field for the game itself. Just as every spo
rt has its "vocabulary" the concepts of offense and defense, as well as various ru
les and strategies the study of chemical reactions involves a large set of terms.
Some aspects of reactions may seem rather abstract, but the effects are not. Eve
ry day, we witness evidence of chemical reactions for instance, when a fire burns,
or metal rusts. To an even greater extent, we are surrounded by the products of
chemical reactions: the colors in the clothes we wear, or artificial materials
such as polymers, used in everything from nylon running jackets to plastic milk
What Is a Chemical Reaction?
If liquid water is boiled, it is still water; likewise frozen water, or ice, is
still water. Melting, boiling, or freezing simply by the application of a change
in temperature are examples of physical changes, because they do not affect the
internal composition of the item or items involved. A chemical change, on the o
ther hand, occurs when the actual composition changes that is, when one substance
is transformed into another. Water can be chemically changed, for instance, when
an electric current is run through a sample, separating it into oxygen and hydr
ogen gas.
Chemical change requires a chemical reaction, a process whereby the chemical pro
perties of a substance are altered by a rearrangement of the atoms in the substa
nce. Of course we cannot see atoms with the naked eye, but fortunately, there ar
e a number of clues that tell us when a chemical reaction has occurred. In many
chemical reactions, for instance, the substance may experience a change of state
or phase as for instance when liquid water turns into gaseous oxygen and hydrogen
as a result of electrolysis.
Changes of state may of course be merely physical as for example when liquid water
is boiled to form a vapor. (These and other examples of physical changes result
ing from temperature changes are discussed in the essays on Properties of Matter
; Temperature and Heat.) The vapor produced by boiling water, as noted above, is
still water; on the other hand, when liquid water is turned into the elemental
gases hydrogen and oxygen, a more profound change has occurred.
Likewise the addition of liquid potassium chromate (K2CrO4) to a solution of bar
ium nitrate (Ba[NO3]2 forms solid barium chromate (BaCrO4). In the reaction desc
ribed, a solution is also formed, but the fact remains that the mixture of two s
olids has resulted in the formation of a solid in a different solution. Again, t
his is a far more complex phenomenon than the mere freezing of water to form ice
: here the fundamental properties of the materials involved have changed.
The physical change of water to ice or steam, of course, involves changes in tem
perature; likewise, chemical changes are often accompanied by changes in tempera
ture, the crucial difference being that these changes are the result of alterati
ons in the chemical properties of the substances involved. Such is the case, for
instance, when wood burns in the presence of oxygen: once wood is turned to ash
, it has become an entirely different mixture than it was before. Obviously, the
ashes cannot be simply frozen to turn them back into wood again. This is an exa
mple of an irreversible chemical reaction.

In other words. a representation of a chemical reaction in which the c hemical symbols on the left stand for the reactants. increasing the kinetic energy of its molecules. the sums of the numbers on one side of the equals si gn must be the same as the sum of the numbers on the other side. is used. no heat has been added. Lead and gold are both el ements. Chemical equations usually include notation indicating the state or phase of mat ter for the reactants and products. needs to be modified in several ways. Sulfur is odorless i n its elemental form. The same is tru e of a chemical equation. Though water bubbles when it boils. but as we shall see. result in the creation of a product or prod ucts. if the reactant is a compound. using this notation. (Of course. however. extre mely unpleasant to the taste buds. or at the very least. of course. Note. can change. this is merely because heat has been added to the water. not every product of a chemical reaction should be tasted some of the compounds produced may be toxic. they merely change part ners. This i s a critical principle in chemistry." SYMBOLS IN A CHEMICAL EQUATION. Instead of an equals sign separating them. As with m any of the characteristics of a chemical reaction described above. aqueous solutions pl ay a role in so many chemical reactions that these have their own symbol. when one of these clues is present. one that proves that medieval alchemists' d ream of turning lead into gold was based on a fallacy. Atoms themselves are ne ither created nor destroyed. po inting to the right to indicate the direction of the reaction. The bubbling of a substance is yet another clue that a chemical reaction has occ urred. or lose partners altogether as they return to their elemental form. there are participants known as reactants. The atomic or molecular structure of the p roduct is different from that of either reactant. however. the at oms in its molecules) are rearranged. This equation as written. meaning that each has different atoms. As stated earlier.Chemical reactions may also involve changes in color. Therefore. a chemical reaction involves changes in the arrangement of atoms. highly toxic gas. At any rate. rather. the equation must be rewritten as H2(g) + O2(g) ?H2O(l) . it tells us that a chemical reaction may have taken place. bubbling does not always occur when two chemicals react. it becomes an evil-smelling. which. these form diatomic (two-ato m) molecules. an arrow. we begin to symbolize the reaction of hydrogen and o xygen to form water thus: H(g) + O(g) ?H2O(l). neither appears as a single atom. carbon which is black can be combined with colorless h ydrogen and oxygen to produce white sugar. neither hydrogen nor oxygen is monatomic. These symbols are as follows: (s) : solid (l) : liquid (g) : gas (aq) : dissolved in water (an aqueous solution) The fourth symbol.) Smell. does not indicate a phase of matter per se (though obviously it appears to be a liquid). in their elemen tal form. however. The atoms in the reactants (or. and in a chemical reaction. This suggests another kind of change: a change in taste. and those on the right are the product or products. REAL-LIFE APPLICATIONS Chemical Equations In every chemical reaction. To imagine a chemical reaction in which one becomes the other is like saying "one plus one equals one. too. that the number of atoms does not change. But when hyd rogen peroxide bubbles when exposed to oxygen. In a mathematical equation. In specific proportions an d under the right conditions. but when combined with hydrogen to form hydrogen sulfide ( H2S). by chemically reacting to one another. First o f all.

as a little rudimentary analysis will show. Such analysis can be do ne in a number of ways: for instance. Obviously.. indicating that two wate r molecules now have been created. involves a fairly simple substance. we have two hydrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms. on the right side. by symbolizing each chemical species as a circle with chemical symbols for each element in it. What we have done is to balance an unbalanced equation. and de termine whether the same numbers and proportions of elements appear in the produ ct or products. analysis will reveal that the problem of the oxygen im balance has been solved: now there are two oxygens on the left. But solving that problem has created another. The coe fficients must be checked to ensure that the smallest integers possible have bee . Is this right? Once again. it is best to start with the most complex molecule. fi nally. But this is still not correct. the next step is to w rite an unbalanced equation. Though an unbalanced equation is incorrect. Whatever the method used. this equation needs to be corrected to account for the second oxygen atom. is called a coefficient. In writing and balancing a chemical equation. because now there are four h ydrogen atoms on the right. After th is has been done. the equation is correct. of the chemical species involved. Now we have H2(g) + O2(g) ?2H2O(l). the sec ond-most complex can then be addressed. this time in front of the hydrogen molecule on the left. because as we have seen. In performing analysis to balance the equation. it is time to analyze the equation. THE PROCESS OF BALANCING CHEMICAL EQUATIONS. the result may be an incorrect equation. Note that only coefficients can be changed. the unbalanced equation should be subje cted to analysis. Assuming the numbers of atoms in the reactant and product do not match. and two on the r ight. of course. as demonstrated above. Thus a single water molecul e would be shown as a circle containing two H's and one O. to determine whether all the atoms on the left side reappear o n the right side. along the lines of "1 + 1 = 1. or any other number used for showing m ore than one of a particular chemical species in a chemical equation. The 2. The example used. one final step is necessary. by formula. Balancing Chemical Equations When checking a chemical equation. the use of a coefficient to straighten out one discrepancy may create another. as compared with two on the left." That is exactly what has happened here. to see if the num ber of atoms on the left equals the number on the right. the re is only one oxygen atom to go with the two hydrogens. the equation should again be checked. and the best way to do that is to show a second water molecule on the righ t side. the first step is to ascertain the identities. Now. An unbalanced equation i s one in which the numbers of atoms on the left are not the same as the number o f atoms on the right. This will be represented by a 2 before the H2O. the formulas of the species themselv es (assuming they were correct to begin with) should not be changed. however. it will be necessary to place coefficients before one or more chemical species. it is sometime s a necessary step in the process of finding the balanced equation one in which th e number of atoms in the reactants and those in the product are equal. as well as their stat es of matter. otherwise. one should always break it down into its cons tituent elements. much more complex molecules will be part of the equation. After identifying the reactants and product. Obviously. On the left side. After the most complicated molecule has been dealt with. another coefficient of 2 is needed. and so on. but often. After that. After the equation has been fully balanced. The changed equation is thus written as: 2H2(g) + O2(g) ? 2H2O(l).

Another extremely important type of reaction is an oxidation-reduction reaction. Chemical Equi librium. Initially K+ and CrO42. Other reactions form gases. SINGLE AND DOUBLE DISPLACEMENT.were combined. heating calcium carbonate (lime-stone) to make calcium oxide or lime for cement also yields gaseous carbon dioxide: CaCO3(s) + heat ?Ca O(s) + CO2(g). as for instance when water is separated into hydroge n and oxygen. Examples of reactions in aqueous solutions are discussed. Another type of reaction is an acid-base reaction. and there is anot her product: 2KNO3(aq). resulting in the formation of water along with a salt. Single-di splacement reactions often occur with metals and with halogens.were together. which is symbolized thus: AB + CD ?AD + CB. reaction is one in which a compound is formed from simpler materials whether those materials be elements or simple compounds. Types of Chemical Reactions Note that in chemical equations. This can be represented symbolically as A + BC ?B + AC. COMBINATION AND DECOMPOSITION. Indeed. the same is true of a chemical equation. but not very "clean . But this is also a reaction in an aqueous solution. a metal(A) reacts with an acid (BC) to produce hydrogen (B) and a salt (AC). OR GASES. one of the symbols used is (aq). combustion reactions in which oxy gen produces energy so rapidly that a flame or even an explosion results are an im portant subset of oxidation-reduction reactions. This also represents one of many instances in which the language of science is quite different from everyday . REACTIONS THAT FORM WATER. The anions changed places. this is bo th an oxidation-reduction and a synthesis reaction. such as the polymers in plastics and synthetic fabri cs such as nylon. some ex tremely complex substances. Sometimes called a redox reaction. when hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water. SOLIDS. an in stance of a double-displacement reaction. in which an element reacts with a compound. or potassium nitrate dissolved in water. The coefficients should thus always be the smallest number that can be used to yield a correct result. we had ended up with an equation that lo oked like this: 12H2(g) + 6O2(g) ?12H2O(l). The reaction referred to in the preceding paragraph also happens to be an exampl e of another type of reaction. 1/ 2. because two anions (negatively charged ions) have been exchanged. For instance. This is correct. in the above exercise. an aqueous solution . it oxidizes in the presence of air). There are also reactions that form a solid. The rusting of iron is an example of an oxidation-r eduction reaction. so too is combustion. When iron rusts (in other words. Such reactions are called precipitation reactions. also involve synthesis reactions. On the other hand. an oxidation-reduction reaction occurs durin g the transfer of electrons. and one of the elements in the compound is released as a free element. which indicate s a chemical species that has been dissolved in water that is. in which solid BaCrO4(s) is formed. in which an acid is mixed wit h a base. or combination.n used. such as the one mentioned much earli er. A synthesis. The fact that this has its own special symbol indicates that aqueous solutions are an important part of chemistry. It is also possible to have a single-displacement reaction. A basic example of this is the reaction described earlier in relation to chemical equat ions. Solutions. and these reacted with a compound in which Ba2+ and NO3. Suppose." Just as a fraction such as 12/24 needs to be reduced to its simplest form. for instance. Similarly. in the essays on Acid-Base Reactions.

an organic substance is eventually bro ken down through a number of processes. this is a heterogeneous reaction. weight. simply because women . or "laughing gas. eye color." Similarly. or even into elements. the se are two different parameters that are more or less independent. or if they produce a substance or substances that a re in a different phase. Still another way to identify chemical reactions is in terms of the phases of ma tter involved. or gas). If reactants in one phase of matte r produce a substance or substances in the same phase (liquid. KEEPING IT ALL STRAIGHT. rust (or rather. t his is called a homogeneous reaction. nitrogen. there are numerous ways to classify chemical reactions. Likewise. nitr ogen and hydrogen combine to form ammonia. resulting in the production o f ash. a railing on a balcony rusts due to the fact that the paint has peeled off. a cold pack contains an ampule that absorbs heat when broken. made from a formerly living thing. SOME OTHER PARAMETERS. along with the production of new gases. Just to compl icate things a little more. but it would be impos sible to put the ash back together to make a piece of wood. this is called a heterogeneous reaction. the for mation of water by hydrogen and oxygen is reversible by means of electrolysis. does not mean that the person cannot also be brown-eyed. On the other hand. Finally. most notably the activity of bacteria. A true decomposition reaction occurs when a compound is broken down into simpler compounds. hair color. Much earl ier. Th e fermentation of grapes to make wine is also a form of decomposition. they can also be identified as to whether they produ ce heat (exothermic) or absorb heat (endothermic). and other elements that are returned to the environment. Obviously. so this is actually a synthesis or combination reacti on. This is rather like the many physical characteristics that describe a person: gender. they simply identify specific aspects of the same thing. An example of a homogeneous reaction occurs when gaseous nitrogen combines with oxygen. a gas and a solid react. for instance. When water is subjected to electrolysis such that the hydrogen and oxygen are separated. there are the processes that normally come to mind when we think of "decomposition": the decay or rotting of a formerly living thing. also a gas. Combustion is clearly an exam ple of an exothermic reaction. females over six feet tall are rare. If a piece of iron say. This is clearly an example of an irreversible reaction. resulting in a chan ged form of the metal. solid. of course. it would seem from an unscientific standpoint that th e iron has "decomposed. Used for instance to prevent swe lling on an injured ankle. to produce nitrous oxide. a chemical reaction can be either reversible or irreversible. also a gas." However. And then. when a metal undergo es an oxidation-reduction reaction. this is a decomposition reaction. oxygen. and some yield water as one of the products. Just because someone is bl onde. some solids. On the other hand. while an endothermic reaction can be exemplified by the process that takes place in a cold pack. and so on. we described how wood experiences combustion. u ntil it ultimately becomes carbon. he ight. But when hydrogen and oxy gen form water. In such instances. race. The different classifications of reactions discussed above are clearly not mutua lly exclusive. By contrast. if the reactants are in different phases of matter. there is some relation between these parameters in specific i nstances: for example. The atoms in the wood and the air that oxidized it have not been destroyed. metal oxide) is a more comple x substance than the iron. This could also include the decay of something. such as an item of food.language. We have already seen that some reactions form gases.

it is concerned purely with phy sical processes involving heat and energy. it can bre ak the chemical bonds in the reactants. Thus human life can be said to depend on chemical reactions aided by a wondrous form of catalyst. According to this collision model. Catalysts are thus not consumed in the reaction. more molecules are colliding. O ne very important example of a catalyst is an enzyme. a ssociated with the movement of objects. One is stoichiometry (stoy-kee-AH-muh-tree). the faster the reaction. SPEEDING UP A CHEMICAL REACTION. these reactions are to o slow. as for instance whe n potassium reacts with water. Thermodynamics is also a branch of physics. if the collision is strong enough. The balancing of the chemical equation for water earlier in th is essay is an example of basic stoichiometry. and is specifically concerned with the rates and mechanisms of reaction. Increases of concentration and temperature can be applied together to produce an even faster reaction. . a chemical reaction is the result of collisions between molecules. in volves the study of the collisions between molecules that produce a chemical rea ction. Likewise physicists study kinetics. Essentially. In the same way.tend to be shorter than men. In ei ther case. which speeds up complex re actions in the human body. Chemical thermodynamics is the area of chemistry that addresses the amounts of h eat and other forms of energy associated with chemical reactions. Studying Chemical Reactions Several aspects or subdisciplines of chemistry are brought to bear in the study of chemical reactions. At ordinary body temperatures. The more the molecules collide. but rates of reaction can also be increased by use of a c atalyst. but the enzyme hastens them along. it is unlikely that a reaction in an aque ous solution will be a combustion reaction yet it does happen. which is con cerned with the relationships among the amounts of reactants and products in a c hemical reaction. on the other hand. resulting in a rearrangement of the atom s to form products. Chemical kinetics. but in that realm. a substance that speeds up the reaction without participating in it eit her as a reactant or product. Inc rease in the numbers of collisions can be produced in two ways: either the conce ntrations of the reactants are increased. or the temperature is increased. or even considerably taller. But there are women who are six feet tall.