What factors influence the rate of a chemical reaction?
- Concentrations of reactants
- Surface area of a solid reactant
- Pressure of gaseous reactants or products
If you are planning an investigation, I suggest that you investigate the effects of temperature or the effects of the concentration of the reactants because these will allow you to choose a suitable range of values for the controlled or independent variable. The dependent variable will be the rate of the reaction. Keep all the other variables fixed.
To make a prediction for your investigation you will have to ask yourself the question: What will happen to the rate of the reaction when I increase the temperature? or What will happen to the rate of the reaction if I increase the concentration of one of the reactants? The answer to that question is your prediction. The next thing to do is to explain your prediction. You will have to answer the question: Why will the reaction go faster if I increase the temperature? or Why will the reaction go faster if I increase the concentration of one of the reactions? The answer to this question is your explanation, and to get the highest possible marks, you will have to provide a full scientific explanation.
Once you have written your hypothesis (prediction with explanation) you will decide how to do the experiments, i.e. write the proposed method.
When two chemicals react, their molecules have to collide with each other with sufficient energy for the reaction to take place. This is collision theory. The two molecules will only react if they have enough energy. By heating the mixture, you will raise the energy levels of the molecules involved in the reaction. Increasing temperature means the molecules move faster. This is kinetic theory. If your reaction is between atoms rather than molecules you just substitute “atom” for “molecule” in your explanation.
Catalysts speed up chemical reactions. Only very minute quantities of the catalyst are required to produce a dramatic change in the rate of the reaction. This is really because the reaction proceeds by a different pathway when the catalyst is present. Adding extra catalyst will make absolutely no difference. There is a whole page on this site devoted to catalysts.
Increasing the concentration of the reactants will increase the frequency of collisions between the two reactants. So this is collision theory again. You also need to discuss kinetic theory in an experiment where you vary the concentration. Although you keep the temperature constant, kinetic theory is relevant. This is because the molecules in the reaction mixture have a range of energy levels. When collisions occur, they do not always result in a reaction. If the two colliding molecules have sufficient energy they will react.
If reaction is between a substance in solution and a solid, you just vary the concentration of the solution. The experiment is straightforward. If the reaction is between two solutions, you have a slight problem. Do you vary the concentration of one of the reactants or vary the concentration of both? You might find that the rate of reaction is limited by the concentration of the weaker solution, and increasing the concentration of the other makes no difference. What you need to do is fix the concentration of one of the reactants to excess. Now you can increase the concentration of the other solution to produce an increase in the rate of the reaction.
If one of the reactants is a solid, the surface area of the solid will affect how fast the reaction goes. This is because the two types of molecule can only bump into each other at the liquid solid interface, i.e. on the surface of the solid. So the larger the surface area of the solid, the faster the reaction will be.
Smaller particles have a bigger surface area than larger particle for the same mass of solid. There is a simple way to visualize this. Take a loaf of bread and cut it into slices. Each time you cut a new slice, you get an extra surface onto which you can spread butter and jam. The thinner you cut the slices, the more slices you get and so the more butter and jam you can put on them. This is “Bread and Butter Theory”. You should have come across the idea in your biology lessons. By chewing your food you increase the surface area so that digestion can go faster.
You should already know that the atoms or molecules in a gas are very spread out. For the two chemicals to react, there must be collisions between their molecules. By increasing the pressure, you squeeze the molecules together so you will increase the frequency of collisions between them. This is collision theory again.
In a diesel engine, compressing the gaseous mixture of air and diesel also increases the temperature enough to produce combustion. Increasing pressure also results in raising the temperature. It is not enough in a petrol engine to produce combustion, so petrol engines need a spark plug. When the petrol air mixture has been compressed, a spark from the plug ignites the mixture. In both cases the reaction (combustion) is very fast. This is because once the reaction has started, heat is produced and this will make it go even faster.