April 2019 Limerick Project

Precipitation Reactions

“Reactions with solid formation,
We classify precipitation:
Mix solutions (aq),
And the (s) formed anew
Will crash out to observer’s elation.”

The next few limericks address specific classes of chemical reactions and how to identify and interpret them: again, a common theme of many General Chemistry courses.  The first, from 5 April 2019, is a reaction type that figures heavily in both introductory chem courses and my interdisciplinary course, Chemistry in Art.   

“Reactions with solid formation,/ We classify precipitation:” 
Much like balancing reactions, another intro-level skill is identifying types of reactions; chemical reactions often have tell-tale reactants or products that allow their classification.  Reactions in different classes follow set patterns, so once we’ve done our classification, we can explore more interesting aspects of the pertinent chemistry.

For instance, a precipitation reaction involves the formation of a solid product called a precipitate; this product “falls” out of solution (parallelling the everyday definition of precipitation).  

“Mix solutions (aq),/ And the (s) formed anew/
Will crash out to observer’s elation.”
To identify a precipitation reaction, we look for a process with two identifying characteristics.  First, the reactants are aqueous solutions (compounds dissolved in water); they are designated as such by the (aq) abbreviation after their chemical formulas.  Second, one product is a solid, which is designated by the (s) abbreviation after its chemical formula. The final line of the poem notes that precipitation reactions are fun to watch, as the solid product “crashes out” of the solution.

Here’s a sample reaction, in which aqueous solutions of potassium chloride (KCl) and silver nitrate (AgNO3) yield a precipitate of silver chloride (AgCl) and a side product of aqueous potassium nitrate (KNO3); we can see the pattern described in lines 3-5 of this limerick:  
KCl (aq) + AgNO3 (aq) → AgCl (s) + KNO3 (aq)   

Precipitation reactions have implications for the interdisciplinary overlap of chemistry and art.  Silver chloride itself is light-sensitive and participates in reactions associated with black-and-white photography.  Some solid precipitates formed in other precipitation reactions are brightly colored and can be used as pigments in mixing and using paints.