To Do List for May 26 to June 3

Time to get ready for our first meeting and laboratory. What do you need to do?

1. Read the Lesson 1 post. Write down notes and questions as you read the textbook and go through the material.

2. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read Keeping a Laboratory Notebook.

3. Now read the instructions for Laboratory 1. After reading through the instructions, begin to fill in your laboratory notebook as explained.

4. What to bring on next Tuesday, June 3:

  • A copy of the class syllabus/tentative schedule
  • Your lab notebook and a pen
  • Calculator, if you have one
  • Paper/notebook to take class notes
  • 1 can of unopened soda

Looking forward to seeing you all there!

Please leave a comment or send an e-mail if you have any questions.


Lab 1 Density of Liquids: Soft Drinks and Water

Our laboratory today was inspired by the large glass of soft drink featured in the beginning of Chapter 1 of the textbook. Keep in mind what you read about “Soda Pop Fizz” while conducting these observations and experiments.

For our first laboratory, I’ll help you fill out your notebook by writing out the sections you will need to add in purple. You don’t need to write everything out word for word, but make sure what you write is understandable to someone else who might read it.

Experimental Title: Lab 1. Density of Liquids: Soft Drinks and Water

Date of laboratory:  To be performed June 3, 2014

Purpose: We are going to look at a common physical property of substances, density, and how it could be used to identify an unknown substance in the real world. At the same time, we will be learning how to use some common laboratory equipment and practice measuring volume of liquids accurately.

The purpose of this laboratory is to determine and compare the density of regular and diet soft drinks to water, as well as investigate how density could be used to identify an unknown substance.


Below is a video that explains density nicely. Before you watch:

Note 1:  You will not be responsible for the terms intensive and extensive property in this course, because they are not used in the textbook. Just be aware that those are ways to categorize properties of matter based on whether they change with the amount of matter present or not.

Note 2:  We will be using the method he demonstrates for finding the volume of an irregularly-shaped object in lab next week.
(There is a pop-up ad).


You may want to summarize what you have learned about density in the Introduction section of your notebook. At the very least include:

Density can be calculated using the formula:

density= mass (g)/volume(mL)

Because the volume of a substance changes with temperature, density also changes with temperature.

Special safety concerns for Lab 1:

  • Although we will not need goggles or gloves today, please do not ever eat or drink anything during chemistry laboratories.
  • If anything spills, please clean it up immediately with a paper towel and let your instructor know.
  • If glass breaks, do not pick it up with your bare hands. Notify your instructor immediately.


  • Large plastic bin or sink
  • Cans of regular soft drink
  • Cans of diet soft drink
  • Unknown soft drink labelled A
  • Unknown soft drink labelled B
  • Water
  • Graduated cylinders
  • Table top scales
  • Transfer pipette
  • Calculator


Part 1. Observe the density of soft drink cans placed in a large container filled with tap water.

Do you expect the cans of soft drink to float, sink, or maintain neutral buoyancy in tap water? Given that the cans likely contain an equal amount of aluminum and gases, do you expect any differences in how the cans will behave?

Procedure 1.

Fill a plastic storage bin with tap water. Place cans of regular soft drink and diet soft drink in the water. Observe whether the cans float or sink.

Leave room to record your observations in your notebook. Did what you observe match your predictions?

Public Domain Photograph by Peter Griffin at

Part 2. Determine the density of unopened cans of soda

Procedure 2.

  1. Turn on the Salter kitchen scale.
  2. Make sure it reads zero.
  3. Place an unopened can of soda on the scale.
  4. Record the kind of soda in your notebook.
  5. Read and record the mass of the can in grams.
  6. Locate the volume of the can in ml and record it in your notebook.
  7. Repeat steps 2-6 until you’ve weighed 4 cans of regular soda and 4 cans of diet soda
  8. Using a calculator, calculate the density.

Include a table like this one in your notebook, so you’ll have room to record your data.


Soft drinks are actually complex mixtures containing a variety of substances such as colors, flavors, acids, sweeteners, preservatives, and caffeine. Remember from the life hacks video in the first lesson? It revealed that soft drinks contain phosphoric acid, which gives soft drinks a tangy taste. Phosphoric acid can also acts as a preservative, keeping the contents of the bottle fresh. Which of these ingredients, if any, might explain the densities we observed?

Read the nutrition facts of the a regular soda and a diet soda. Do you notice any large differences between diet and regular? How much of that substance is in regular soda? How much in diet? Is it safe to assume that the other ingredients will be roughly the same between diet and regular sodas of the same brand?

Part 3. Determine the density of tap water

In this part, you will be measuring the volume of water as well as weighing it.

Hint 1:  When using a graduated cylinder, remember that water tends to creep up the sides of the container. This forms what is called a meniscus.

meniscusAlways take your readings at eye level.

Hint 2:  Because many people will be using the scales, go ahead and weigh your group’s graduated cylinder prior to use rather than using the tare feature on the scale. Remember to subtract that weight from your total each time.

Hint 3: There may be a residual of liquid in your graduated cylinder. If the liquid is another substance, other than the one you are measuring, that residual might interfere with your results. Rather than trying to wash and dry the graduated cylinder each time, an old chemistry trick is to simply rinse it twice with a small amount of the test liquid before proceeding.

For example, you just took the density of water and there is a few drops of water left in the bottom. Now you want to measure the mass of regular Pepsi®. Pour a small amount of Pepsi® into the cylinder, swirl it around and discard it (Never pour it back into the original container!) Repeat, and then you will be ready to proceed.

Procedure 3.

  1. Obtain a graduated cylinder, transfer pipette and beaker full of water.
  2. Weigh the graduated cylinder and record the mass in grams.
  3. Fill the graduated cylinder with 20 ml of water. Use the transfer pipette to fill to exactly 20 ml. Record the volume in your notebook.
  4. Weigh the cylinder plus the water and record the mass in grams.
  5. Subtract the weight of the graduated cylinder.
  6. Repeat steps 3 -5 with 40 ml of water and 60 ml of water.
  7. Calculate the density for each sample.

Example table for data:


Now graph your data. The volume goes on the x-axis and the mass on the y-axis. (If you don’t have a quadrille-ruled notebook, see you instructor for graph paper).


Water is known to have a density very close to 1 g/ml. Is this what you observed? What factors might have changed the densities? What errors might have occurred during measuring?

Check with the instructor for a density of water chart. If your values are significantly different, revise your techniques using the hints above and try again.

You might want to use this information to help you with the next part.

Part 4. Identify unknown samples.

Scenario:  Imagine you are working in a restaurant. Someone has filled two taps, one with diet soft drink and one with regular soft drink. Unfortunately, no one knows which is which. The store manager doesn’t want to serve the public the wrong soft drink, and the two taste similar enough that there are some questions. Should she throw out the soft drinks, or can you tell which is regular and which is diet using chemistry?

You will be given:

  1. Recently-opened soft drink labelled “unknown A”
  2. Recently-opened soft drink labelled “unknown B”
  3. Previously-opened soft drink of type A labelled “flat unknown A”
  4. Previously-opened soft drink of type B labelled “flat unknown B”
  5. Equipment from previous parts of this lab

Use what you have learned in the previous parts of this lab to design a procedure to figure out which is regular soda and which is diet.  Be sure to take careful notes of what you do and what your results are.

When you are finished, check with the instructor to see if your techniques correctly identified the types of soda and saved the restaurant some money.


Once you have completed the four parts, sit down and write a sentence or two to explain the results of each part.


Record any thoughts you have about the experiments, including:

  • Possible improvements to the procedures or how to tweak techniques
  • How the results differed from your expectations
  • Suggestions for other experiments
  • What key concepts you learned about density of liquids

We’ll go over the key concepts together at the end of lab.

Thank you for going over the lab ahead of time and getting your lab notebook ready. It will definitely help our first lab go more smoothly.

Please leave a comment or send an e-mail if you have any questions before our first meeting.

Lesson 1: Introduction to Chemistry

For this lesson we’re going to learn what chemistry is, what the scientific method is, and why we should study chemistry.

Textbook Reading:  Chapter 1 The Chemical World (pp. 1-8)


In this section each week, I’ll add materials to supplement your readings, as well as propose some questions we will discuss in class.



Now that you are in a chemistry class, you might be wondering exactly what you will be learning. What is chemistry exactly?

You probably already have some ideas about what chemistry is from your past experiences. Do you visualize ball-like atoms, scientists in white coats, and/or beakers full of colorful liquids? How about loud explosions?

If you have studied biology, you may have learned it is “the study of living things,” a definition that seems pretty clear. In contrast, chemistry is quite difficult to define and there isn’t one, fixed definition used by everyone. In fact, some sources say chemistry is now changing so fast, and is part of so many other sciences, that it is impossible to define.

In the textbook, Tro gives the following definition on the bottom of page 3:

Chemistry is the science that seeks to understand what matter does by studying what atoms and molecules do.

Let’s examine some of the vocabulary he uses more closely.


The first thing we need to be clear about is what matter is. By definition, matter is anything that takes up space (or saying that in another way, has volume) and has mass. Many times you may hear matter defined as “stuff,  as in matter is all the stuff around us, and even the stuff that makes us up. Stuff sounds a little vague, so perhaps it would be clearer if we looked at what is not considered to be matter.



In this illustration the light socket, the light bulb, and even the chain are matter, but the electricity coming to the outlet and the light produced by the bulb are not. Things like sound, gravity and time are also not considered to be matter.

Atoms and Molecules

Matter is made up of particles called atoms. In the textbook, Tro introduces atoms as very tiny particles. Molecules are two or more atoms bonded together. We will learn a lot more about atoms and molecules in future chapters.


If you have taken other science courses before, you are probably familiar with the scientific method. If not, here’s a quick review:


First a scientist makes some sort of an observation, perhaps while out on a walk on the beach or in the lab while doing other experiments. That observation may generate a question in the scientist’s mind, which he or she might eventually use to formulate into a hypothesis (tentative explanation). If the hypothesis is testable, as it should be, the scientist will design and carry out an experiment, or even series of experiments, to test it. If the results of the experiment(s) work out, it confirms the hypothesis and the scientist may publish his or her work to communicate it to others.

If the experiment does not work out, the scientist may revise the hypothesis or throw it out altogether.

Throughout the experiments the scientist may make further observations, which lead to more hypotheses. The scientific method is not a linear, step-by-step process, but may be a complex and convoluted one.

Over time, as more and more scientists throughout the world test and confirm a given hypothesis or set of hypotheses, those may become a law. If the hypotheses and/or laws become well established and are deemed to have a sufficient power to explain phenomena, then they are “promoted” and considered to be theories.

Perhaps it would be easier to understand with a concrete example:

Fossil evidence suggests that dinosaurs became extinct rather abruptly approximately 65 million years ago. In 1978 Luis Alvarez, his son Walter Alvarez, and their coworkers made the observation that a thin layer of sedimentary rock formed 65 million years ago that contained unusually high concentrations of iridium, a rather rare metal.



Figure 1. Luis and Walter Alvarez are standing in front of a rock formation in Italy that shows the thin white layer of iridium-rich clay deposited at the time the dinosaurs became extinct. The concentration of iridium is 30 times higher in this layer than in the rocks immediately above and below it. There are no significant differences between the clay layer and the surrounding rocks in the concentrations of any of the 28 other elements examined. (b) Microphotographs of an unshocked quartz grain (left) and a quartz grain from the iridium-rich layer exhibiting microscopic cracks resulting from shock.

example of scientific method


(Click on the illustration to enlarge it.)

Further observations and experiments led them to suggest the iridium came from an asteroid hit that the Earth near the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, resulting in the extinction of the dinosaurs.

(These illustrations were from General Chemistry: Principles, Patterns and Applications, adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee.)

 Why we should study chemistry



Many chemists and others consider chemistry to be the “central science.” To understand what is going on in virtually all the other sciences, one must understand the atoms and molecules that make up matter. It is basic to what is going on in the universe.

Chemistry is a science that is central not only to other sciences, but also to many other fields. We need it to understand how the spark ignites hydrocarbons in an internal combustion engine, what to add to the mixture of pigments we use to paint the wall, or what are ways to make a better shampoo.

Think chemistry isn’t relevant to you? Check out these cool chemistry life hacks:


Discussion challenge:

Why do you want to study chemistry? Why might learning chemistry important to your life and career?

Think about it and we’ll discuss it more in class.

Congratulations, you made it through the first lesson!

Keeping a Chemistry Laboratory Notebook

A scientific laboratory notebook is an important document. In addition to being proof that you completed an honors high school chemistry laboratory, keeping an accurate notebook is also good practice for future classes and even jobs. A properly-formatted scientific notebook can serve as a legal document. For these reasons, we need to take keeping a laboratory notebook seriously.


To get started, please read Chapter 2 Keeping a Lab Notebook (pp. 15-18) in The Home Scientist Standard/Honors Home School Chemistry Laboratory Kit CK01A Instruction Manual (from now on, let’s call it “The Home Scientist Lab Manual.”)

Note a:  If the manual you downloaded doesn’t have this title or the page numbers don’t match, please let me know and I’ll help you find the right one.

Note b: For our notebooks, we are going to allow a few modifications from The Home Scientist Lab Manual guidelines, as stated below. You will find each class you take will have slightly different rules. You will need to follow those of your current instructor.

This Care and Feeding of a Lab Notebook video helps explain the steps as we will be using them.

His advice to do all the work in the laboratory notebook is good. There is no need to keep separate sheets and copy them neatly later.

The one exception is that we will not be signing and dating each page.


Instructions for Our Class:

1. The laboratory notebook must be permanently bound (not looseleaf). Those with quadrille-ruled pages are a good choice.

2. Always use ink, never pencil. For our purposes, I will allow and even encourage you to use different colors of inks. I really like how the “student” used different colors of ink in these sample laboratory notebook pages (from a college organic chem class).

3. When you make an error, simply put a single line through the words or numbers. The idea is to leave a permanent record of what you did. Never erase or use white out. Example of a notebook correction:  The water was hot. room-temperature

Note: Believe it or not, many important discoveries came out of laboratory errors. For example, an herbicide was discovered when a frustrated chemist threw his beaker of chemical out the window. Later he noticed that the mix had killed the grass, which he realized was a significant discovery. If he had “neatened up” his notebook by erasing, tearing out or other removing his experiment, he might not have been able to duplicate the formula.

4. Start out by numbering all the pages in order in the upper, outer corner. That means the right pages go in the top right corner and the left pages in the top left corner.

5. Create a title page. You can put a title on the front cover, but I recommend you also create a title page on the first page inside as well.









Note:  Do I need to tell you about the graduate student who accidentally put his notebook of his entire summer’s work on the roof of his car and drove for 30 miles? If your notebook is lost, it really pays to have your contact information inside!

6. Leave a few pages at the front to fill in the Table of Contents. It might look this when you complete it:

Table of Contents

Title                                                                                            Pages

Laboratory 1. Density of soft drinks                                    pp. 1-5

Laboratory 2. The Measurement Challenge                       pp. 6-12


7. Whether you use the right page only or both pages of the notebook is up to you. Using only the right page came about from the idea that ink might bleed through the paper, but since most paper these days is high quality, that is less of a problem than it once was. If you have a mixed note-taking and quadrille-ruled notebook, you might want to use the left side for notes and the right side for data.

8. You will need to record the name of your lab partner(s) and indicate their contribution for each lab. I like the idea of adding their name in a different-colored ink and writing their data in that color because it makes it very clear who did what parts. Different colors are not required, however.

9. You do need to put the date of each lab with the title as you start it. You do not need to sign and date each page. If you successfully complete the course, I will date and sign off on your notebook at the end of the course.

10. Add any printouts using glue sticks, not tape or staples.

11. We will follow the format for writing the labs in the notebook as suggested by The Home Scientist Lab Manual. I will also give you specific ideas and hints with each of the labs as we go along.


Yes, I know keeping a rigorous laboratory notebook seems like a lot of work. You might be surprised, however, at how important keeping a detailed notebook as a journal of your work can be, regardless of what career you choose. For example. the famous designer Michael Bierut has filled 86 (!!) composition notebooks since 1982.

Do you have any questions? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blog, send a direct e-mail or post to our Yahoo group.

To Do List for April

Thank you to everyone who participated in the first organizational meeting. It was nice to meet/see you all.


To keep on track, let’s recap what you need to do this month:

  1. Download the CK01A Standard/Honors Home School Chemistry Laboratory Kit manual at The Home Scientist, LLC.
  2. Obtain a copy of Introductory Chemistry (4th Edition) by Nivaldo J. Tro.
  3. Round up the following supplies:
  • One pair splash goggles per student
  • Chemical resistant nitrile or latex gloves (If you interested in learning more about gloves try this fact sheet from Grainger)
  • Bound notebook (not 3-ring)

Optional: Download the free online textbook CK-12 Chemistry (Second Ed.) We can use it as a resource.

Note:  There are other free online textbooks under the “Flexbook® Textbooks” tab at the CK-12 website.

We will start using some of these items next month as we prepare for the first laboratory.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions.

A little chemistry humor:

Two atoms were walking down the street when the first one exclaimed, ” Oh, no, I just lost an electron.”

“Are you sure?” the second atom said.

“I’m positive,”  the first one said.

Introduction: Table Salt versus Salt Sense

Today we are going to investigate a product called Salt Sense® versus regular table salt.

salt-and-pepper(Public domain photograph of salt and pepper by Jon Sullivan)

According to the label of the product, Salt Sense® contains real salt, but there is “33% less sodium per teaspoon.” How is this possible?

Prior to starting, answer the following questions:
What do you know about salt and its structure? How might the company achieve its claim of 33% less sodium per teaspoon? Is there 33% less chloride as well?


  • Iodized Table Salt
  • Iodized Salt Sense
  • Microscope or hand lens
  • Petri dishes
  • Measuring beakers or graduated cylinders
  • Kitchen scale that can weigh grams
  • Laboratory notebook or paper
  • Pen for recording results


1. Place a small sample of table salt in one petri dish and a sample of Salt Sense® in a second petri dish. Look at the samples under the microscope.

Draw what you see for each sample. How might the differences you observe change the amount of sodium per teaspoon?

2. Calculate the density of each substance.

Density = mass/volume

Tare a measuring beaker on the scale (ask the instructor if you don’t know what “tare” means.)

Pour 20 ml of table salt in the beaker. Weigh the table salt in grams and record the weight.

Now tare the second beaker. Add 20 ml of Salt Sense® to the beaker and weigh it. Record the weight in grams.

Calculate the density of each sample. Which sample is less dense? How much less dense is it?

How might you make your results more accurate?


Manufacturer Diamond Crystal’s explanation of Salt Sense®

Check out this video about the history and chemistry of sodium chloride.

Credit: NBC Learn and the National Science Foundation (NSF)

Grow your own salt crystals at

Using salt to melt ice at NBC Learn

Choosing a Chemistry Textbook

The Home Scientist, source of our laboratory kits, recommends the following texts on his website:

1. Chemistry: The Central Science (12th Edition) by Theodore E. Brown, H. Eugene H LeMay, Bruce E. Bursten, Catherine Murphy, Patrick Woodward

As you can see from the Amazon ad, it is pretty expensive.

2. CK-12 Chemistry, which is available for free online.

The CK-12 books are being marketed as “Flexbooks,” which means that the website has modules of text that can be put together in different ways to make a custom textbook. You can see the modules under the “Concepts” tab and the textbooks created using the modules under the “Flexbook® Textbooks” tab at the CK-12 website.

Pros: The online textbook is inexpensive (free) and the flexible content is appealing.

Cons: Reading online takes 25% longer than from a standard text. If we print out the .pdf, it will probably cost about as much as a used textbook.

Bottom line: Wouldn’t it make sense to download the CK-12 Chemistry Second Ed? We can use it as a resource, even if we decide on another textbook.

Other options:

Introductory Chemistry (4th Edition) by Nivaldo J. Tro is a popular chemistry text that is used for high school, AP and introductory college classes.

Used texts are running about $26 on Amazon right now. I learned about this from a homeschool friend whose son used it to pass AP chem.

Chemistry: An Introduction to General, Organic, and Biological Chemistry (11th Edition) by Karen C. Timberlake

Different versions of Timberlake are available, some of which are used for local community college classes.

Another option might be to use this inexpensive self-study guide, which we could supplement with online materials: Chemistry: Concepts and Problems: A Self-Teaching Guide by Clifford C. Houk, and Richard Post

Finally, there are a lot of online textbooks available (see the blog online textbook resource page).

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

Atoms rule!