Ionic Equilibria in Aqueous Solutions

Submitted by ChemPRIME Staff on Thu, 12/16/2010 - 14:50


We have already noted the importance of reactions in aqueous solutions in the chemical laboratory, in the natural environment, and in the human body. Many reactions in aqueous solutions involve weak acids or bases or slightly solubleAble to dissolve in a solvent to a significant extent. substances, and in such cases one or more equilibria are achieved in solution. Furthermore, the equilibriumA state in which no net change is occurring, that is, in which the concentrations of reactants and products remain constant; chemical equilibrium is characterized by forward and reverse reactions occurring at the same rate. state is usually reached almost instantaneously, and so we can use the equilibrium law to calculate the concentrations and amounts of substance of different species in solution. Such information enables us to understand, predict, and control what will happen in solution, and it has numerous practical applications. Equilibrium constants may be used to obtain information about reactions in solution, and in many cases the results of equilibrium calculations will be applied to practical problems.

Acid-base reactions in aqueous solutions are intimately related to water’s ability to act as both a weak acid and a weak baseAn base that ionizes only partially in a given solvent., producing H3O+ and OH by proton transfer. In any aqueous solution at 25°C:

K_{w}={[\text{ H}_{3}\text{O}^{+}][\text{OH}^{-}]}=\frac{{1.00}\times{10}^{-14}}{\text{1 mol dm}^{-\text{3}}}


[\text{H}_{3}\text{O}^{+}][\text{OH}^{-}]={K_{w}}=\text{1.00}\times\text{10}^{-14} \text{ mol}^{2} \text{ dm}^{-6}


and concentrations of H3O+ and OH can vary from roughly 100 to 10–14 mol dm–3. This makes it convenient to define pH and pOH as:

\begin{align}
  & \text{pH}=-\text{log}\frac{[\text{ H}_{3}\text{O}^{+}]}{\text{1 mol dm}^{3}}\text{              } \ 
 &  \ 
 & \text{pOH}=-\text{log}\frac{[\text{ OH}^{-}]}{\text{1 mol dm}^{-3}} \ 
\end{align}

Since molecules of a strong acidAn acid that ionizes completely in a particular solvent. transfer their protons to water molecules completely, [H3O+] (and hence pH) can be obtained directly from the stoichiometric concentration of the solution. Similarly [OH] and pOH may be obtained from the stoichiometric concentration of a strong baseA base that dissociates completely or ionizes completely in a particular solvent.. In the case of weak acids and weak bases, proton-transfer reactions proceed to only a limited extent and a dynamic equilibriumA self-establishing state in which the concentrations of reactant and product species remains constant forever; called dynamic because it is reached when opposing processes occur at the same rate; if a change in conditions causes a system not to be at equilibrium, the system will return to equilibrium in a way that partially counteracts the change in conditions. is set up. In such cases an acid constant Ka or a base constant Kb as well as the stoichiometric concentration of weak acid or base are required to calculate [H3O+], [OH], pH, or pOH. Ka and Kb for a conjugate acid-base pair are related, and their productA substance produced by a chemical reaction. is always Kw.

Often it is necessary or desirable to restrict the pH of an aqueous solution to a narrow range. This can be accomplished by means of a buffer solution―one which contains a conjugate weak acid-weak base pair. If a small amount of strong base is added to a buffer, the OH ions are consumed by the conjugate weak acid, so they have little influence on pH. Similarly, a small amount of strong acid can be consumed by the conjugate weak base in a buffer. To a good approximation the [H3O+] in a buffer solution depends only on Ka for the weak acid and the stoichiometric concentrations of the weak acid and weak base.

Indicators for acid-base titrations are conjugate acid-base pairs, each member of which is a different color. An indicator changes from the color of the conjugate acid to the color of the conjugate baseThe base formed when an acid releases a hydrogen ion (proton). as pH increases from approximately pKIn – 1 to pKIn + 1. For titrations involving only strong acids and strong bases, several indicators are usually capable of signaling the endpoint because there is a large jump in within ± 0.05 cm3 of the exact stoichiometric volume of titrant. In the case of titrations which involve a weak acid or a weak base, a buffer solution is involved and the jump in pH is smaller. Consequently greater care is required in selection of an appropriate indicator.

A dynamic equilibrium is set up when a solidA state of matter having a specific shape and volume and in which the particles do not readily change their relative positions. compoundA substance made up of two or more elements and having those elements present in definite proportions; a compound can be decomposed into two or more different substances. is in contact with a saturatedDescribes 1) a solution that contains the equilibrium concentration of a solute, or 2) an organic compound that contains no double or triple bonds (such as an alkane). solution. In the case of an ionic solid, the equilibrium constant for such a process is called the solubility product. Ksp can be determined by measurement of the solubility of a compound, and it is useful in predicting whether the compound will precipitate when ionic solutions are mixed. The common-ion effect, in which an increase in the concentration of one ion decreases the concentration of the other ion of an insolubleUnable to dissolve appreciably in a solvent. compound, can be interpreted quantitatively using solubility products. It is also true that removal of one ion of an insoluble compound from solution will increase the concentration of the other ion, and hence the solubility. It is for this reason that salts of weak acids often dissolve in acidic solutions―protonation of the anionA negatively charged ion. An ion that is attracted toward the anode in an electrolytic cell. effectively reduces its concentration to the point where the solubility product is not exceeded.