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Teacher Notes

Lab Comparing Ionic and Molecular Compounds

Students observe the physical properties of several compounds. Using their observations, they group the
compounds based on similar properties. Using information from the text, they then determine which
group contains ionic compounds and which contains molecular compounds. Time Frame: 45 min - 1 hour.

Chemistry Concepts: physical properties of ionic and molecular compounds, inductive reasoning,
decomposition vs. melting

Materials (per group)

spot plate hotplate deionized water can lid with dents or
ethanol conductivity tester samples of solids ceramic well plate

Procedure Notes
The diagram on the student handout applies to the can lid with dents method. Use a safety (no sharp
edges) can opener to remove can lids. The advantage of using can lids is that you can dispose of them
afterwards instead of trying to clean them, which can be quite difficult. If you are using a ceramic well
plate, replace the can lid diagram with the well plate diagram shown below.

For conceptual chemistry, select four compounds that are unambiguously ionic or molecular compounds.
Good examples are sodium chloride (NaCl), potassium sulfate (K 2SO4), sucrose (C12H22O11), stearic acid
(CH3 (CH2)16COOH), phenyl salicylate (2-HOC6H4-1-CO2C6H5) and lauric acid (CH3(CH2)10COOH) . For
more advanced students, compounds may be used that have less clear properties, such as citric acid which
ionizes partially and may conduct electricity in aqueous solutions or calcium chloride which can absorb
so much moisture from the air that it appears to be melting.

Some old versions of this lab may use naphthalene or para-dichlorobenzene as examples of molecular
compounds. Para-dichlorobenzene is considered a severe irritant and a possible carcinogen. It should not
be used at all. Naphthalene is considered moderately toxic and a fire risk. It may be used, but only with
excellent ventilation and no open flames. Potassium iodide is specified in some labs, but it absorbs water
and is light sensitive.

Samples of these compounds should be in small containers each with a small scoop or spatula at the lab
stations. Remind students to use only a few crystals of each compound for each test.

The melting point test can be done either with a burner or a hotplate. Note that if you use burners, all
burners should be out before the ethanol is even placed on the lab tables. For easy cleanup, collect
Teacher Notes

metal can lids opened with a can opener that leaves no sharp edges. Use a ball pein hammer to place
dents evenly spaced around the perimeter of the lid. The lids can be used over a small flame or on a
hotplate. Just throw the can lids away after they have cooled. A second possibility is using a high
temperature ceramic well plate, such as Coors or Anchor Hocking, preferably blue, on a hotplate, not over
a burner. The blue ones cost over $10 each and must be carefully cleaned between uses.

During the conductivity test, emphasize to students they must have clean equipment, use distilled or
deionized water as the solvent and avoid cross-contamination for good results. Conductivity can be tested
using the Vernier conductivity probe or Flinn conductivity tester (about $20 and uses a 9V battery).

Another test sometimes conducted is hitting the crystals with a small hammer or crushing them in a
mortar with a pestle to see if the pieces are brittle or malleable. This test can be added if time and
materials allow.

Conclusions Answer Key

1. One set should include the molecular compounds, such as sucrose, phenyl salicylate and stearic acid.
These compounds should have melted and/or decomposed, have a flaky or lumpy, not crystalline,
appearance (except sucrose), are less likely to dissolve in water than alcohol and have aqueous
solutions that do not conduct electricity.

The other set should include the ionic compounds, such as sodium chloride and potassium sulfate
which have much higher melting points, appear more crystalline, are more brittle and dissolve in
water to produce solutions which conduct electricity.
2. Students should correctly identify their two groups and justify their answers by the properties. Holts
Modern Chemistry, p. 179, is a reference.

3. In a covalent bond electrons are shared; in an ionic bond, electrons are transferred.

4. Sucrose will probably be noted. It turns brown, chars, at high temperatures. This is a chemical
change because there is a change of color. Sucrose is a molecular compound.

5. Tap water contains dissolved minerals that could affect the conductivity results. Nonconductors could
test as conductors.

6. As an extension, students can add a justification for each response in #6.

a. molecular. Low melting point and not soluble in water.
b. ionic. High melting point and crystalline.
c. molecular. Low melting point, not soluble in water and decomposes when heated.
d. molecular. Aqueous solution does not conduct electricity. Review with students that sucrose,
glucose, ribose, etc., are examples of sugars.
e. ionic. Crystalline, soluble in water to make a solution that conducts electricity. Halite is the
mineral name for sodium chloride.