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Simulation Activity: Metals in Aqueous Solutions (15 Favorites)

ACTIVITY in Observations, Chemical Change, Balancing Equations, Activity Series, Chemical Change, Electron Transfer, Electrons, Predicting Products. Last updated March 2, 2021.


Summary

In this activity, students will run simulated tests of various metals in aqueous solutions to determine the relative reactivity of these metals. A total of eight metals will be observed in various combinations with the corresponding metal nitrate solutions and hydrochloric acid. Students will interpret the data collected to construct an activity series of the elements used in this simulation.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

This activity will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • MS-PS1-2: Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.
  • HS-PS1-2: Construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, trends in the periodic table, and knowledge of the patterns of chemical properties.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Developing and Using Models
    • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
    • Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Objectives

By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

  • Determine whether a reaction has occurred between a metal and a solution based on their observations.
  • Write chemical equations for each reaction that occurs in the simulation.
  • Use their observations and data to construct an activity series for the metals (and hydrogen) used in this simulation.

Chemistry Topics

This activity supports students’ understanding of:

  • Activity series
  • Chemical change
  • Predicting products

Time

Teacher Preparation: 10 minutes

Lesson: 45-60 minutes

Materials

Safety

  • No specific safety precautions need to be observed for this activity. 

Teacher Notes

  • Many thanks to Tom Greenbowe and John Gelder for their input on this simulation, which was inspired by their Flash-based simulation. Since Flash is no longer supported, they provided valuable insight as we designed this new simulation and resource based on their originals.
    • The original simulation was previously used in the Wastewater Recovery project in the AACT classroom resource library, and now this simulation can be used in its place.
  • A common misconception students have about aqueous solutions is that they don’t realize that the ions separate in water. For example, if they see “NaCl (aq),” they picture units of “NaCl” (a sodium and chlorine atom attached) rather than separate Na+ and Cl ions. It might be helpful before starting this activity to have students draw the particles in a beaker containing an aqueous solution so you can address this if it is a misconception held by any of your students.
  • In this simulation, students observe the interactions of different subsets of eight metals and eight metal nitrate solutions, as well as hydrochloric acid, across four different activities. Students record their observations of what happens to each combination of metal and solution and use these observations to determine an activity series for the group of elements within each activity, and then for all 8 metals and hydrogen combined. The elements tested in each activity are as follows:
    • Activity 1: Mg, Zn, Cu, and Ag are each tested in Mg(NO3)2 (aq), Zn(NO3)2 (aq), Cu(NO3)2 (aq), and AgNO3 (aq).
    • Activity 2: Sn, Pb, Ni, and Fe are each tested in Sn(NO3)2 (aq), Pb(NO3)2 (aq), Ni(NO3)2 (aq), and Fe(NO3)2 (aq).
    • Activity 3: Fe, Zn, Cu, and Pb are each tested in Fe(NO3)2 (aq), Zn(NO3)2 (aq), Cu(NO3)2 (aq), and Pb(NO3)2 (aq).
    • Activity 4: Sn, Pb, Cu, Ni, Zn, and Fe, are each tested in HCl (aq).
    • The answer key, including all the correct activity series, is available for download in the sidebar.
  • Depending on the order of topics presented in your course, this simulation could be used in teaching about activity series in a unit on electrochemistry, redox chemistry, chemical reactions (specifically, single replacement reactions), or solutions. You could also revisit the simulation in more than one of these units and add additional layers of complexity that were not discussed when you used the simulation the first time around. Other topics that are not explicitly addressed in this simulation but could be discussed include:
    • Oxidation and reduction half reactions
    • Spontaneous and nonspontaneous reactions
    • Reduction potentials
    • Galvanic and electrolytic cells
  • In this simulation, the molecular view only shows the metal atoms and ions, as those are the ones that have the potential to change. The anion is the same – nitrate – for all solutions in the simulation (except for the hydrochloric acid, in which case it is chloride) and doesn’t change in the single replacement reactions, so it is excluded for clarity. Similarly, water molecules are not shown as they do not change either and would far outnumber the ions in the solution. Without these spectator species shown, it is easier for students to see what changes are occurring, but you could have a discussion with students about what else is present in the beakers.
  • When students are asked to write balanced chemical equations for the reactions that do occur, you may want to remind them that they need to write the correct formulas for each reactant and product (identifying the correct charges for the ions and making sure ionic compounds are neutral by changing subscripts) before balancing with coefficients.
  • Related classroom resources from AACT Library that may be used to further teacher this topic:
  • Students can easily access this simulation from the following link:

For the Student

Lesson

Background

Some elements are more reactive than others, meaning that they are more likely to form compounds than to be found in their pure elemental or “free” form. Other elements are less reactive and more likely to be found as pure elements, not in a compound. This simulation will allow you to test various combinations of elements and compounds to put a selection of elements in order from most reactive to least reactive – a list called an activity series. More reactive elements will replace less reactive elements in a compound given the opportunity to react. Less reactive elements will remain as pure elements and will not react with compounds containing more reactive elements.

Objective

Use the results of the simulated experiments to determine the activity series for the elements used in this simulation.

Instructions

Access the simulation at https://teachchemistry.org/classroom-resources/metals-in-aqueous-solutions-simulation and complete each activity, recording the appropriate information and answering the questions below.

Activity 1

A. Select one of the metals and follow the instructions on the simulation to test its interaction with each of the solutions.

B. Determine which combinations of elements and solutions react and which do not. Record your observations of any changes you see in the metals or the solutions in Table 1 below. If you do not see any changes, write “No reaction.”
i. Click on “See Molecular Scale” to see how particles are interacting.

C. Repeat steps A and B for the three remaining metals.

Table 1
Mg(NO3)2 (aq)
Mg2+
Zn(NO3)2 (aq)
Zn2+
Cu(NO3)2 (aq)
Cu2+
Ag(NO3)2 (aq)
Ag+

Mg

Zn

Cu

Ag

Analysis

1a. Write and balance a complete chemical equation for each reaction you observed.

1b. Based on the observations you recorded in Table 1 and the reactions you wrote in the previous question, what criteria can you use to determine which metal is the most reactive and which one is the least reactive?

1c. Using the criteria you noted in question 1b., put the elements from Activity 1 in order from most reactive (at the top) to least reactive (at the bottom) in the list below.

Most
reactive

Least
reactive

1d. Look at the element on the top of your list.

  • i. Which elements from the list did it replace in a compound? In other words, what metal ions in the solutions did it react with?
  • ii. Explain how you can use an element’s location on this list to determine whether or not it will react with a solution containing a cation of another element on the list.
  • iii. Does this pattern hold true for the other elements on the list? Explain using another element from the list as an example.

1e. Pick a combination of metal and solution that did have a reaction and describe what happens in the molecular view. Compare and contrast this to the molecular view of one of the non-reacting combinations of metal and solution.

1f. What particles are shown in the molecular view? What particles would be present in real life but are not shown in the molecular view? Why do you think those particles were excluded?

Activity 2

A. Select one of the metals and follow the instructions on the simulation to test its interaction with each of the solutions.

B. Determine which combinations of elements and solutions react and which do not. Record your observations of any changes you see in the metals or the solutions in Table 2 below. If you do not see any changes, write “No reaction.”
i. Click on “See Molecular Scale” to see how particles are interacting.

C. Repeat steps A and B for the three remaining metals.

Table 2
Fe(NO3)2 (aq)
Fe2+
Pb(NO3)2 (aq)
Pb2+
Ni(NO3)2 (aq)
Ni2+
Sn(NO3)2 (aq)
Sn2+

Fe

Sn

Pb

Ni

Analysis

2a. Write and balance a complete chemical equation for each reaction you observed.

2b. Similar to how you ordered the elements in Activity 1, put the elements from Activity 2 in order from most reactive (at the top) to least reactive (at the bottom) in the list below.

Most
reactive

Least
reactive

Activity 3

A. Select one of the metals and follow the instructions on the simulation to test its interaction with each of the solutions. (Notice that two metals and solutions were used in Activity 1 and two metals and solutions were used in Activity 2.)

B. Determine which combinations of elements and solutions react and which do not. Record your observations of any changes you see in the metals or the solutions in Table 3 below. If you do not see any changes, write “No reaction.”
i. Click on “See Molecular Scale” to see how particles are interacting.

C. Repeat steps A and B for the three remaining metals.

Table 3
Zn(NO3)2 (aq)
Zn2+
Cu(NO3)2 (aq)
Cu2+
Fe(NO3)2 (aq)
Fe2+
Pb(NO3)2 (aq)
Pb2+

Fe

Zn

Cu

Pb

Analysis

3a. Write and balance a complete chemical equation for each reaction you observed.

3b. Similar to how you ordered the elements in Activity 1 and 2, put the elements from Activity 3 in order from most reactive (at the top) to least reactive (at the bottom) in the list below.

Most
reactive

Least
reactive

3c. Use the lists you generated so far in Activities 1, 2 and 3 to put all the metals from the simulation in order from most reactive (at the top) to least reactive (at the bottom) in the list below.

Most
reactive

Least
reactive

Activity 4

A. This activity involves only 1 solution: hydrochloric acid, HCl (aq). Select one of the metals and follow the instructions on the simulation to test its interaction with HCl (aq).

B. Determine whether a reaction occurs or not. Record your observations of any changes you see in the metal or the solution in Table 4 below. If you do not see any changes, write “No reaction.”
i. Click on “See Molecular Scale” to see how particles are interacting.

C. Repeat steps A and B for the five remaining metals.

Table 4
HCl (aq)
H+

Sn

Pb

Cu

Ni

Zn

Fe

Analysis

4a. Write and balance a complete chemical equation for each reaction you observed. (Use the molecular view to get a closer look at the gas that is formed by these reactions!)

4b. Using your combined activity series list from Activity 3 (question 3c.) as a starting point, add H2 (recall that hydrogen is a diatomic element!) to the appropriate location in your activity series in the list below.

Most
reactive

Least
reactive

4c. What was different about the reactions you observed in this activity compared to the previous activities?

Interpret

  1. Some of the solutions in this simulation were colorless, while others had different colors associated with them. Which solutions were colored, and what part of the solution (cations, anions) accounts for the difference in colors? What evidence supports this conclusion?
  2. The following reactants involve the metals and solutions tested in this simulation, but in new combinations. Use your final activity series (question 4b.) to determine if a reaction occurs – if it does, write a complete and balanced chemical equation for that reaction. If a reaction does not occur, simply write “No reaction.”
    1. Fe (s) + AgNO3 (aq)
    2. Sn (s) + Mg(NO3)2 (aq)
    3. Cu (s) + Ni(NO3)2 (aq)
    4. Mg(s) + Pb(NO3)2 (aq)
    5. Zn (s) + Ni(NO3)2 (aq)
    6. Mg (s) + HCl (aq)
    7. Sn (s) + Zn(NO3)2 (aq)
    8. Pb (s) + AgNO3 (aq)
  3. You test a new metal, M, in a variety of solutions to determine where it would fit on your activity series, and you obtain the following results:
Ag(NO3)2 (aq)
Ag+
Pb(NO3)2 (aq)
Pb2+
Ni(NO3)2 (aq)
Ni2+
HCl (aq)
H+
Zn(NO3)2 (aq)
Zn2+

M

Light silver metal covers the grey surface of the unknown M

Dark grey lead metal covers the grey surface of the unknown M

No reaction

Bubbles form, surface of the unknown M is deformed

No reaction

3a. Is the information provided enough to determine the exact position of M? If not, what other solutions would you need to test?

3b. Where would M fit into your activity series (i.e. between which elements)?

  1. Some metallic elements can be found in pure form in nature. Other metallic elements are usually found in compounds, combined with other elements. Of the metals you worked with in this simulation, which do you think are most likely to be found in pure form in nature? Least likely? Explain your choices.