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Diffusion of gases ammonia and hydrogen chloride

Demonstration
Concentrated ammonia solution is placed on a pad in one end of a tube and concentrated hydrochloric acid on a pad at the
other. After about a minute the gases diffuse far enough to meet and a ring of solid ammonium chloride is formed.

Lesson organisation
This demonstration is best performed in a fume cupboard. A black background, such as a sheet of black sugar paper, behind the
demonstration helps the white ring to be seen more clearly. Actually performing the demonstration takes only a few minutes.

Apparatus Chemicals
For one demonstration: Concentrated hydrochloric acid
Eye protection (goggles) (CORROSIVE), a few cm3 (Note
Access to a fume cupboard 2)
Protective gloves, preferably 880 ammonia solution
nitrile (CORROSIVE, DANGEROUS
A length of glass tube about FOR THE ENVIRONMENT), a few
half a metre long with an inside cm3 (Note 2)
diameter of about 2 cm (Note 1) Acetone (FLAMMABLE), a few
Retort stands with bosses and cm3 (optional) (Note 1)
clamps, 2 Refer to Health & Safety and
Small wads of cotton wool, 2 Technical notes section below
Bungs, to fit into the ends of for additional information.
the glass tube, 2
Strip of universal indicator
paper (optional)

Health &Safety and Technical notes


Read our standard health &safety guidance
The demonstrator should wear goggles and protective gloves.

Concentrated hydrochloric acid, HCl(aq), (CORROSIVE) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard. Produces hydrogen chloride gas, HCl(g),
(TOXIC, CORROSIVE) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard.

880 ammonia solution, NH3(aq), (CORROSIVE, DANGEROUS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard. Produces
ammonia gas, NH3(g), (TOXIC) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard. Care should be taken when opening the bottle of ammonia solution,
particularly on hot days when pressure can build up in the bottle. If the bottle of ammonia is kept for a long time, its concentration
may decrease which will lessen the effectiveness of the demonstration.

1 It is very important that the tube is clean and completely dry for this experiment. If necessary, the tube can be dried by pushing
a cotton wool pad soaked in acteone through the tube and leaving it for a few minutes.

2 The concentrated hydrochloric acid and the 880 ammonia solution are easier to handle in small bottles than in Winchesters
(large bottles) for this demonstration.

Procedure
a Working in the fume cupboard, clamp the glass tube at either end, ensuring that it is horizontal.

b Open the bottle of ammonia solution cautiously, pointing the bottle away from both you and the audience. Open the bottle of
hydrochloric acid and hold the stopper near the mouth of the ammonia bottle. Note the white clouds of ammonium chloride that
form.

c Put one of the cotton wool wads in the mouth of the ammonia bottle and carefully invert it to soak one side of it. Push the
soaked end into one end of the glass tube. Replace the lid on the bottle.

d Repeat this procedure quickly with a second wad of cotton wool and hydrochloric acid. Put the cotton wool wad into the other
end of the glass tube.

e Putting bungs into the ends of the glass tube will reduce the quantity of the gases which escape and therefore the smell. Once
assembled, the tube can be removed from the fume cupboard.

f Watch the tube and observe a ring of white powder forming near the middle of the tube. This is ammonium chloride.

Teaching notes
The reaction which is taking place is:

ammonia + hydrogen chloride ammonium chloride

NH3 (g) + HCl (g) NH4Cl (s)

The exact time taken for the ring to form will depend on the dimensions of the tube, the amount of the solutions which are put on
the cotton wool wads and the temperature of the room.

The ring usually forms nearer to the hydrochloric acid end of the tube because hydrogen chloride diffuses more slowly than
ammonia. This is because hydrogen chloride has almost twice the molecular weight of ammonia, and the rate of diffusion is
inversely proportional to the square root of the molecular mass of the gas.

It is worth noting that the rate of diffusion is not the same as the speed at which the gas molecules travel (which is hundreds of
meters per second). The gas molecules follow a zig-zag path through the tube as they collide with the air molecules in the tube.

The purpose of the glass tube is to eliminate air currents and to see if the gas molecules will move on their own.

Health &Safety checked, 2016

Credits
This Practical Chemistry resource was developed by the Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry

Page last updated October 2015