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Commentary The Concept of Density by Stephen J. Hawkes Neanderthals knew no math yet knew thac roc has a higher density chan wood, and used that knowledge to their sdbenage Teo many rons bee hat dit he sule of the arithmetic operation of dividing mass by volume. This makes density an abstraction and prevents them from realizing, among other things, that compressing something must increase the density: They have not absorbed the con- cept that “density” refers tothe "denseness” with which mass is packed End-of chapter questions abouc density are almost cx: lusvely exercises in d=m/V? Many ssdencs who can use this ‘equation without any dificuley ind questions cha ret the concept of density to be difficult or even unfair. They do not perceive a meaning to the numerical value of a com- poundls density. Yer as an aspect of chemistry, che qualitative concept of density is atleast as important as its calculation We need to teach the following principles and to help students to perceive thatthe first one implies ll the others: Students who can reason with ratios, which regrefully con post Density isa measute ofthe denseness with which mass is packed, ‘The more closely atoms ate packed the higher willbe the density ‘Other ehings being equal, compounds of atoms with greater atomic mas ate denser. (Compression increases densicy. Density of an object does not depend on its ste of shape “Heavier” as applied toa substance is synonymous wich “yreaerdensiy” is less than half ofall seudens (1), will perceive chat all the above follow from d=m/V. Most will not perceive this, and will se no connection between m/Vand the concept of den- sicy as denseness. Teaching and testing these principles is hharder chan teachi and testing dom/V The following qucr- tions address cis. The answers ate not obvious, ven though most readers of JCE will find them so. HM fled lump of steel in air or che same lump under water? An asteroid at rst or the same asteroid traveling at nearly che velocity of ight? Olive oil or water? Regular water or deuterium oxide? As liquids a 300 K2 ‘As gases a 800 K? © Sold icon a earth's surface or at a depth of 5000 ken? Liquid iton in the earth cre at a depch of 3000 km or 5000 kam? © The Stame of Liberty or souvenir-shop modal of made ofthe same metal? © The nucleus ofan atom or the whole atom? The gascous hexafluoride of U-235 or of U-238 (both a STP? 1. The densicy of Pha is 1.1 gem, Does tis support the belief thar ics mosti ice? Docs it prove that Pleo is mostly ice? How would the temperature of Plco alfece the density of ice? The density of ie a 273 Kis 0.92; at 100 K ic is 0.93. Tes density a 2r0 K is not reported in chemical reference works If glass beads are poured int a container and the con- ‘ainer is then shaken gently making them serde into 2 smaller volume, does the densiey of the accumula- tion of beads increase with the shaking? Docs the densicy ofthe glass" 44. Aragonite and caeite are both calcium carbonate, but aragonite has a higher density. Suggest why this may be. [Another example of this is white phosphorus (= 1.8 g cm”), red phosphorus (d= 2.2 gem?) and black phosphorus (d= 2.7 gem™)] Why does vicreous silica have a lower densicy 2.2 g cm?) chan crystalline silica (2.6 gem)? Although stoms of calcium and scandium have nearly the same mass, the density of scandium is ewice chat of calcium, Suggest why. Is densicy mass/volume? Or docs that depend on what the definition of "is" is? Phads'n 4 Which has the higher denscy (or are they the same)? (© Aluminum or steel? ‘Compressed air or regular ar (both at 298 K)? Cold steel ot hot steel? © Liquid water orice? Hilium or air (both at STP)? Argon or xenon (both at STP)? Consequences of Density In an electrical conductor, valence electrons are dclocal- ined so that orbitals extend from one end ofthe conductor to the other (2). This requires that the atoms are close co- gether, that is, at high density (3, 4). This gives rise to che following questions: 1. Why, when hydrogen is subjected to exremely high © Acabic meter of carbon dioxide o iter of erbon sees itn ete ea Ie beta tree dioxide (bok a STP)? of decry although i a non-conductor a not- Ferny lump of steel asa or the same lump ina spinning rally stainable prests? Would this apply to other cents en veproy substances tha are nonconducot at STP? 14 Journal of Chemical Education * Vol. 81 No. 1 January 2004 + wwwJCE DivCHED.org PII SSeS i. Why, when a substance has two forms, does the form that ea condo of electiccy have greater density than the nonconducto? j.. Regular in has density 73, bucwhen ics comverted 19 257 cn (in “in dsese) che densi 5.8, Suggest a pose xplnaion of why the are irene Suggest ‘hich is bewer conductor of ec. Why? Diffusion is alo affected by che density of che medium through which diffusion occurs. The rate of difusion of ben- 1ene through polydimethyisloxane (“dimethylsicone’) varies ‘with che molecular weight ofthe polydimethyksloxane and is {minimum at about M = 10%, whereas the density has a maxi ‘mum at neatly the same molecular weight M = 10 (5). The density ofthis silicone and the ate of diffusion ini are both controlled by the size and numberof spaces beewecn the poly- ter molecules, Icha also been shown that in synthetic b> bats (6) the rate of diffusion of heradecane decreases with increasing densgy.A similar ration also exss for polythyl- ene of various densities. We may reasonably assume that chis holds generally for polymers with weak intermolecular forces. ‘Exam questions on this concep are hard to wrt, but. Why, when a substance bas ewo forms, do other sub- scances diffuse more quickly through the form with lower denscy? 1. Water beds occasionally need their water ro be replen- ished, because water lst by diffusion duough the polymeri wal af che bed. Ifthe walls of polyethy- fee, would the choice of high density or lw densiry polyethyene aff this! Which would be preferable from cis pepective? 1m, Soltions with accurately knows concentrations increase in concentration in afew yeas when stored in plastic bord, but not when stored in gas (7. Suggest why this isso, When several diferent plastics were tied (8, 19), the lowest penetration was found for high-density polyethylene, Suggese why Ihe change sr be mini- ‘ized, how would this concep affect the choice ofthe plastic of which the bordeis made? Density is a fornal concept yet only half of students are formal reasoners. They must be led tothe formal relation and not be expected to see intuitively tha it follows from d=m/ The purpose ofa university education is often suid co be for stadens co learn think. Are universities then obligated to train students in ratio easoning and other basic thinking Skills? Do we? Or should taxpayers put money int taining pre-college teachers in the necesary techniques for teaching Such skis and support the teaching when they undertake i? Literature Cited 1, Arons Arnold, Taching Iodactory Phys; Wiley: New York, 1997; Part One, p 365 2. Hays, Sepen J. CHEM3 New 2002, 305 (Oct), 4-5. 3: Edwards, Pln The Now Chemis Hal, N., Bs Cambridge University Pret: Cambridge, UK, 2000; 5, pp 85-114 4, Nels, W. Scenic American 2000, 282, 84-90. Kong, J. Mu Haves, S.J. Macromolecules 1975, 8,685. 6 Sanne, V. Ia Difion in Pobmen; Ceank, J Pak GS Ede Academic Pres: New York, 1968; p54 7, Catey, WM. J. Am Pharm. oe. 1927, 16,115. 8 Genstenberges Henn. GIT Faheincif fr de Laboratori 1994, 38, 279-280. 9, Aumtrong, Aled R. Virginia Journal of Science 1969, 20, 58-59. ‘Stephen J. Hawkes is in the Department of Chem- story, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97330-4003; stephen hawkes@orstedu, wwwJCE.DVCHED.org * Vol. 81 No. | Jenuary 2004 * Joumal of Chemical Educction 15