May/June 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 7

Chemicals and Their Properties Lab

Posted: Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

by Jeff  Bradbury and Patricia Buchanan

Name ____________________

Date _____________________

Partner’s Name ____________

Question: The work of a crime scene investigator (CSI) is to identify certain found liquids or solids in an investigation, how could we find out the identity of an unknown substance?

Purpose: To learn how to classify matter and its changes.

Part 1 Introduction:

Background Information:

1) A pure substance is a sample of matter that has a definite, fixed composition, and the same properties throughout the sample.  Each pure substance has its own set of characteristic properties.

Physical properties can be observed without changing the chemical composition of the substance.  Common physical properties that can be measured without changing the chemical composition are color, melting point, boiling point, solubility, and density.  Taste and odor are usually considered to be physical properties although they depend on the physiology of the person making the observations.

Physical changes do not cause a change in chemical composition, but only a change in appearance.  When a substance simply changes from a solid to a liquid, liquid to a gas or vice-versa (liquid water to solid water, for example) without a change in composition, it is a change in state.  This is a physical change.  (The three physical states are:  gas, liquid, and solid).

Chemical properties describe the ability of a substance to react and change into another substance with a different chemical composition.  The new substance would have new properties.

2) Evidence that a chemical change is taking place includes:

a.  A color change

b.  A solid product, a precipitate is formed

c.  A gas is formed

d.  Energy such as heat, light or electricity is produced.


In today’s lab you will observe some physical properties of elements and some physical and chemical changes. You will be working in groups of 2.

Procedure, Observations, and Data:


Safety goggles must be worn at all times

Hydrochloric acid (HCl) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH) can harm eyes, skin, and clothing. Handle with care. Any acid spilled on the skin should be rinsed with a large volume of water for 15 minutes.

Wash your hands before you leave the lab.

Do not take reagent bottles from the reagent bench to your work station.

Do not pour anything back into a reagent bottle. Offer extra chemical to another student

Do not stick anything into a reagent bottle.

Always clean glassware and spot plates with distilled/deionized water.

Using Chemical and Physical Changes to Identify an Unknown Substance:

At the reagent bench are samples of 7 common substances.  Your instructor will assign you an unknown, which is the same as one of the 7 known substances.  Based on the observations of the chemical and physical properties of the known and unknown substances, you will determine the identity of the unknown.

Procedures 3-5 do not need to be done in order.  You will perform all of the tests on the unknown that you perform on each of the known samples.

1. Observe each sample, including the unknown, and then record your observations as to the color, texture and any other important properties in table 1.

2. In a spot plate place small pea-sized amounts of each substance in 2 different rows of wells. Be careful to note which substance is in which well. Do not use more than a small pea-sized amount, or it will be difficult to perform the tests. (On a paper towel write the name of each substance in the order it is placed in your spot plate, and place this paper towel next to the spot plate.)

3. a. Into the first row of wells of the different substances, put about 1 ml of de-ionized water.  See if the substances dissolve completely or partially, or change in any other way. Record any evidence of change that occurs in table 1.

b. In the row of wells that contains the substances mixed with water, put 3 drops of universal indicator. Record any evidence of change in table 1.

4. In the other row of wells containing the samples put 3 drops of dilute acetic acid (vinegar) and record any evidence of change in table 1 below.

5. Cover your wire gauze with a piece of the aluminum foil that is set out on the reagent bench.  Place about pea-sized amounts of each substance onto the foil covered gauze. Make sure there is plenty of space between each sample on the foil.  Place the gauze on the ring stand and ring apparatus that is in the fume hood.   Light the burner and place the heat under each sample to see if any change occurs. Record any evidence of change in table 1.

Using the data that you recorded in table 1, determine the identity of the unknown sample and answer the questions that follow the table.

Waste: Rinse spot plates in the sink.  Clean spot plates with tap water then deionized water. When aluminum foil has cooled. Wad it up and throw it in the trash.

Table 1: Determining the identity of an Unknown substance

Appearance (1) Reaction with water  (2) Reaction with universal indicator (3) Reaction with vinegar  (4) Reaction with heat   (5)
Sodium Chloride
Sugar (Sucrose)
Baking Powder
Baking Soda

(Sodium Bicarbonate)

Citric Acid
White Flour
Calcium Carbonate
Unknown #

Unknown #     ____________________

Based on you observations in the above table identify the unknown _____________________

Explain the evidence for your answer to the above question:


1.  Explain the difference between a chemical and physical change? (You can use examples from this lab in your explanation.)

2. What was it that you did today that helped you see the difference between a chemical and physical change?

3. What happened when vinegar was added to the powders?


Jeff Bradbury is a professor of chemistry at Cerritos College in Norwalk and is community college director for CSTA; Patricia Buchanan is the Cal Grip Grant Project Assistant at Cerritos College.  The original idea for this activity came from the Los Angeles County Office of Education 15 years ago, which the authors modified.

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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Participate in Chemistry Education Research Study, Earn $500-800 Dollars!

Posted: Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

WestEd, a non-profit educational research agency, has been funded by the US Department of Education to test a new molecular modeling kit, Happy Atoms. Happy Atoms is an interactive chemistry learning experience that consists of a set of physical atoms that connect magnetically to form molecules, and an app that uses image recognition to identify the molecules that you create with the set. WestEd is conducting a study around the effectiveness of using Happy Atoms in the classroom, and we are looking for high school chemistry teachers in California to participate.

As part of the study, teachers will be randomly assigned to either the treatment group (who uses Happy Atoms) or the control group (who uses Happy Atoms at a later date). Teachers in the treatment group will be asked to use the Happy Atoms set in their classrooms for 5 lessons over the course of the fall 2017 semester. Students will complete pre- and post-assessments and surveys around their chemistry content knowledge and beliefs about learning chemistry. WestEd will provide access to all teacher materials, teacher training, and student materials needed to participate.

Participating teachers will receive a stipend of $500-800. You can read more information about the study here:

Please contact Rosanne Luu at or 650.381.6432 if you are interested in participating in this opportunity, or if you have any questions!

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption Reviewer Application

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

The California Department of Education and State Board of Education are now accepting applications for reviewers for the 2018 Science Instructional Materials Adoption. The application deadline is 3:00 pm, July 21, 2017. The application is comprehensive, so don’t wait until the last minute to apply.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson forwarded this recruitment letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators.

Review panel members will evaluate instructional materials for use in kindergarten through grade eight, inclusive, that are aligned with the California Next Generation Science Content Standards for California Public Schools (CA NGSS). Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Lessons Learned from the NGSS Early Implementer Districts

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

On March 31, 2017, Achieve released two documents examining some lessons learned from the California K-8 Early Implementation Initiative. The initiative began in August 2014 and was developed by the K-12 Alliance at WestEd, with close collaborative input on its design and objectives from the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, and Achieve.

Eight (8) traditional school districts and two (2) charter management organizations were selected to participate in the initiative, becoming the first districts in California to implement the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Those districts included Galt Joint Union Elementary, Kings Canyon Joint Unified, Lakeside Union, Oakland Unified, Palm Springs Unified, San Diego Unified, Tracy Joint Unified, Vista Unified, Aspire, and High Tech High.

To more closely examine some of the early successes and challenges experienced by the Early Implementer LEAs, Achieve interviewed nine of the ten participating districts and compiled that information into two resources, focusing primarily on professional learning and instructional materials. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Using Online Simulations to Support the NGSS in Middle School Classrooms

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

by Lesley Gates, Loren Nikkel, and Kambria Eastham

Middle school teachers in Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD), a CA NGSS K-8 Early Implementation Initiative district, have been diligently working on transitioning to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrated model for middle school. This year, the teachers focused on building their own knowledge of the Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs). They have been gathering and sharing ideas at monthly collaborative meetings as to how to make sure their students are not just learning about science but that they are actually doing science in their classrooms. Students should be planning and carrying out investigations to gather data for analysis in order to construct explanations. This is best done through hands-on lab experiments. Experimental work is such an important part of the learning of science and education research shows that students learn better and retain more when they are active through inquiry, investigation, and application. A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) notes, “…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 Science Education” (pg. 11).

Many middle school teachers in KCUSD are facing challenges as they begin implementing these student-driven, inquiry-based NGSS science experiences in their classrooms. First, many of the middle school classrooms at our K-8 school sites are not designed as science labs. Learn More…

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Written by NGSS Early Implementer

NGSS Early Implementer

In 2015 CSTA began to publish a series of articles written by teachers participating in the NGSS Early Implementation Initiative. This article was written by an educator(s) participating in the initiative. CSTA thanks them for their contributions and for sharing their experience with the science teaching community.

Celestial Highlights: May – July 2017

Posted: Monday, May 8th, 2017

May Through July 2017 with Web Resources for the Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graphs of planet rising and setting times by Jeffrey L. Hunt.

In spring and summer 2017, Jupiter is the most prominent “star” in the evening sky, and Venus, even brighter, rules the morning. By mid-June, Saturn rises at a convenient evening hour, allowing both giant planets to be viewed well in early evening until Jupiter sinks low in late September. The Moon is always a crescent in its monthly encounters with Venus, but is full whenever it appears near Jupiter or Saturn in the eastern evening sky opposite the Sun. (In 2017, Full Moon is near Jupiter in April, Saturn in June.) At intervals of 27-28 days thereafter, the Moon appears at a progressively earlier phase at each pairing with the outer planet until its final conjunction, with Moon a thin crescent, low in the west at dusk. You’ll see many beautiful events by just following the Moon’s wanderings at dusk and dawn in the three months leading up to the solar eclipse. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.