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Conservation of Mass: A Cycle of Copper Reactions

Ashley Fankhauser
Lab Partner: Makenzie Morgan
Section 34

The purpose of this experiment to perform a series of several reactions in order to
introduce us to different classes of chemical reactions. The starting material of pure
copper should be regenerated after each of these reactions is performed in a
specific order. No copper is added or removed throughout the entire experiment so
the same amount of copper should be recovered at the end. This illustrates the Law
of Conservation of Mass.

The goal of this experiment is to correctly demonstrate the Law of Conservation of
Mass using pure copper. The copper will undergo five different reactions and at the
end of the experiment, it should be possible to recover all of the mass of the original
amount of copper. This is possible because the total number of copper atoms does
not change throughout the entire experiment. This experiment also introduces four
different classes of chemical reactions: oxidation/reduction, precipitation,
decomposition, and acid/base neutralization. Each reaction causes many different
observational changes including color changes, precipitate formation, temperature
changes, and the creation of gases.
The reactions of the copper cycle occur in this order during the reaction. First,
copper is oxidized with nitric acid in an oxidation/reduction reaction that causes a
gas and a Cu2+ ion to be formed. Next, sodium hydroxide is added to the copper ion
in order to form copper (II) hydroxide in a precipitation reaction. Third, the copper
(II) hydroxide is heated to make copper (II) oxide in a thermal decomposition
reaction. Next, sulfuric acid is added to the copper(II) oxide in order to create
copper(II) sulfate in an acid/base neutralization reaction that dissolves the solid.
Finally, solid zinc is reacted with the copper(II) sulfate in order to form solid copper.
This is an oxidation/reduction reaction that precipitates the solid back out.
The Law of Conservation of Mass states that matter can be changed from one form
into another, but the total amount of mass should remain constant throughout
every single change. Therefore, the same amount of copper should be weighed out
at the end as what is started with. This experiment is a great example of this law.
Regarding this law, the percent recovery at the end of this experiment should be
100%. The amount of copper found at the beginning of the experiment should be
equal to the amount recovered. If this happens, the percent recovery will be exactly
100%, and the experiment will have been completed successfully. The percent
relative error should be 0% to show that no errors were made during this
Table 1. Mass of copper and evaporating dish.
Initial mass of copper
Mass of evaporating
Mass of copper and
evap. dish
Mass of copper

Mass (grams)
0.523 g
80.057 g
80.567 g
0.51 g

Percent Recovery: 97.5%

Percent Relative Error: 2.5%

According to Table 1, the initial mass of copper was 0.523 grams. The amount
recovered was 0.51 grams. The percent recovery was found using the following

Recovery =

0.51 grams copper recovered

100 =97.5 copper recovered
0.523 grams intial copper

Using the initial mass of copper and the amount of copper recovered, the percent
relative error was calculated using the following equation:

Relative Error=

|0.523 grams copper0.51 grams copper|

0.523 grams intial copper

100 =2.5 relative error

Throughout the experiment, many changes occurred during each reaction. During
reaction one, as soon as the nitric acid was added, the solution bubbled right away
and began to turn a green color. The mixture gave off a lot of the brown gas,
nitrogen dioxide. After this happened, the solution turned into a darker blue color,
and once all the solid copper was gone, the solution settled to a teal color.
During reaction two, when the sodium hydroxide was added to the copper (II)
nitrate, the solution turned a dark blue color and very small particles were found in
the solution. The solution also appeared to be slightly thicker.
During reaction three, when the copper (II) hydroxide was heated on the hotplate,
dark clumps precipitated out and after a few minutes the difference between the
supernatant liquid and precipitate were clear. The precipitate was a darker color
while the supernatant liquid was exceptionally clear. During the decanting steps,
copper was lost into the waste beaker.
During reaction four, once the sulfuric acid was added to the copper (II) oxide the
solution changed to a light blue color as soon as it was mixed. There was no solid
left after the sulfuric acid was mixed in.
Finally, during reaction five, as soon as the zinc was added the solution began to
bubble and the zinc dissolved. Solid copper began to form as the zinc dissolved. The
solution began to lose its bluish color, and a small amount of zinc needed to be
added again in order to reduce the copper completely.
The main result in our experiment was a 97.5% recovery rate. This is slightly
smaller than the expected result of 100%. This means our percent relative error is
2.5%, which is larger than the expected result of 0%. Our main result does not
follow the Law of Conservation of Mass, because we did not finish with all the mass

we started with. We started with 0.523 grams and finished with 0.51 grams, when
realistically we should have finished with 0.523 grams.
The main reason that we ended up with less copper than we began with is because
during reaction two when the supernatant liquid had to be decanted off the copper
(II) oxide, some of the precipitate was lost. It was lost during the decanting, because
we accidentally poured too much of the liquid out. This is where we probably lost all
of our copper. Overall, our experiment was successful because we managed to
observe all the changes, but we were missing 2.5% of our mass.