Skip Navigation

Lesson 6.10

Carbon Dioxide Can Make a Solution Acidic

Key Concepts

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) gas dissolved in water can cause water to become acidic.
  • The acidity of water from dissolved CO2 can be reduced by a base such as baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).

Summary

The teacher blows into a universal indicator solution until it changes color. Students interpret this color change and explain that the solution becomes acidic. Students explore whether carbon dioxide from other sources, namely carbonated water and a chemical reaction between baking soda and vinegar, can also make a solution acidic and whether a base can neutralize it. Students then apply their learning about acids, bases, and neutralization from lesson 6.8—pH and Color Change, lesson 6.9—Neutralizing Acids and Bases, and lesson 6.10—Carbon Dioxide Can Make a Solution Acidic as they place an Alka-Seltzer® tablet in indicator solution.

Objective

Students will be able to explain that carbon dioxide from any source reacts chemically with water to form carbonic acid. They will also be able to use the color changes of universal indicator to monitor the changing pH of a solution during a chemical reaction.

Evaluation

Download the student activity sheet, and distribute one per student when specified in the activity. The activity sheet will serve as the “Evaluate” component of each 5-E lesson plan.

Safety

Be sure you and the students wear properly fitting goggles during the activity and wash hands afterwards. Universal indicator is alcohol-based and flammable. Use vinegar in a well-ventilated room. Read and follow all safety warnings on the label. Because Alka-Seltzer contains aspirin, check with school administrators before doing the extend portion of this lesson. Students do not touch the tablet because it is sealed in a zip-closing plastic bag.

At the end of the lesson, collect the sealed inflated plastic bags. Have students pour their other used solutions in a common waste container. Later, dispose of all liquid waste down the drain or according to local regulations. The leftover baking soda and plastic bags can be disposed of with the classroom trash.

Materials for the Demonstration

  • Universal indicator solution
  • Water
  • 2 clear plastic cups
  • Straw

Materials for Each Group

  • Water
  • Universal indicator solution in cup
  • Universal indicator pH color chart
  • Carbonated water (club soda or seltzer water) in wide, clear, plastic cup
  • Baking soda in wide, clear, plastic cup
  • Vinegar
  • Alka-Seltzer tablet
  • 2 small clear plastic cups
  • 4 wide clear plastic cups
  • 4 taller, clear, plastic cups
  • Graduated cylinder
  • Snack-sized zip-closing plastic bag

About the Materials

For this lesson, each group will need a Universal Indicator pH color chart. Print enough pages of these charts on a color printer so that each group can have their own chart. You may also choose to purchase them from Flinn Scientific, Product number AP8765.

Each group will also need universal indicator solution, Flinn Product #U0002, and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), Flinn Product #C0136 (500 grams).

  1. Engage

    Do a demonstration to show that adding CO2 gas to water can make the water become acidic.

    Materials for the Demonstration

    • Universal indicator solution
    • Water
    • 2 clear plastic cups
    • Straw

    Teacher Preparation

    Make indicator solution for student groups

    • Make a dilute universal indicator solution for this demonstration and for each student group by combining 625 mL water with 25 mL universal indicator solution.
    • Pour at least 80 mL of this dilute universal indicator solution into a clean plastic cup for each student group.

    Note: Your local tap water is likely fine for the demonstration and activities in this lesson. If the indicator solution you make is not green, this means that your water is either acidic or basic. If this happens, use distilled water, which is available in supermarkets and pharmacies.

    Note: In the activities, each group will need 80 mL of indicator solution. Check to make sure that you prepare enough solution. You will need about 50–60 mL of indicator solution for your demonstration. If 650 mL of solution is not enough, make more using the same proportions.

    Prepare for the Demonstration

    Pour about 25–30 mL of indicator solution into each of two clear plastic cups for you to use in the demonstration.

    Procedure

    1. Show students both samples of universal indicator solution. Place a straw in one of the samples so that the straw goes all the way to the bottom of the cup.
    2. Hold the cup so that students can clearly see the liquid. Blow into the straw until the indicator solution changes from green to yellow.

      A teacher uses a straw to blow into a cup containing universal indicator solution.

    Ask students:

    Does blowing into the indicator solution change its pH?
    Yes, the color changes, so there must be a change in pH, too.
    Does the solution become a little more acidic or a little more basic?
    The color change shows that the solution is a little more acidic.

    Tell students that a chemical reaction occurs between the molecules of CO2 and the molecules of H2O to create a very small amount of an acid called carbonic acid (H2CO3).

    Give each student an Activity Sheet.

    Students will record their observations and answer questions about the activity on the activity sheet. The Explain It with Atoms & Molecules and Take It Further sections of the activity sheet will either be completed as a class, in groups, or individually, depending on your instructions. To find the answers to the activity sheet, go to the downloads area within the online version of this lesson.

  2. Explore

    Have students use club soda as a source of CO2 to see if the gas will change the pH of an indicator solution.

    Question to Investigate

    Will carbon dioxide from carbonated water change the pH of an indicator solution?

    Materials for Each Group

    • Universal indicator solution in a plastic cup
    • Water
    • Carbonated water (club soda or seltzer water) in a wide clear plastic cup
    • 1 wide, clear, plastic cup
    • 2 taller, clear, plastic cups
    • Graduated cylinder
    • Universal Indicator pH Color Chart

    Teacher Preparation

    Pour 25 mL of carbonated water into a wide, clear, plastic cup for each group.

    Procedure

    1. Measure 30 mL of universal indicator solution and divide it evenly into two small, clear, plastic cups.
    2. Add 25 mL of water to a wide plastic cup and 25 mL of carbonated water to another wide cup.
    3. Stand the small cups with indicator solution in the liquid in the wider cups as shown.

      Students place two small cups containing indicator solution into two wide-mouth cups, one containing water, and the other containing carbonated water.
    4. Turn the two tall cups upside down and place them over the two wider cups.
    5. While holding the top and bottom cups to keep them together, gently swirl both sets of cups. Watch the color of the indicator in both cups to see if there is any change.

      Small cups containing indicator solution are swirled inside a 'vessel' made up of one bigger plastic cup, and another bigger plastic cup turned upside down to meet the first.
    6. Compare the color of the indicator to the pH Color Chart to find out whether the solution is acidic, neutral, or basic.

    Expected Results

    The indicator inside the cups with water remained green, while the indicator with the carbonated water turned yellow.

  3. Discuss student observations and what will happen in the following activity.

    Ask students:

    Did either indicator change color?
    Only the indicator with the carbonated water changed color.
    What does the color change tell you about the pH of the indicator solution? Is it acidic or basic?
    The indicator solution is now acidic.
    The carbonated water should not have splashed into the indicator. Why did the indicator solution change color in one set of cups?
    The carbon dioxide from the carbonated water dissolved in the indicator solution. The molecules of carbon dioxide reacted with the water, forming carbonic acid, and changed the color of the indicator.

    Tell students that they have seen carbon dioxide gas from your breath and carbon dioxide gas from carbonated water turn an indicator solution acidic.

    Ask students:

    Do you think carbon dioxide gas produced during a chemical reaction will also turn an indicator solution acidic?
    Carbon dioxide from any source should cause the indicator solution to become acidic. The amount of carbon dioxide gas produced and dissolved in the indicator solution may cause the color of the indicator to vary, but on the acidic side.
    What chemical reaction do you know of that can produce carbon dioxide gas?
    Students should remember that vinegar and baking soda react, producing carbon dioxide gas. Tell students that they will combine baking soda and vinegar in the next activity.
  4. Use a chemical reaction to produce CO2 to see if it changes the pH of an indicator solution.

    Question to Investigate

    Will carbon dioxide gas produced in the baking soda and vinegar reaction change the pH of an indicator solution?

    Materials for Each Group

    • Universal indicator solution in cup
    • Universal indicator pH color chart
    • Water
    • Baking soda in wide clear plastic cup
    • Vinegar in cup
    • 2 small clear, plastic, cups
    • 1 wide clear, plastic, cups
    • 2 taller clear, plastic, cups
    • Graduated cylinder

    Teacher Preparation

    • Pour about 25 mL of vinegar in a small plastic cup for each group.
    • Place about ½ teaspoon of baking soda into a wide, clear, plastic cup for each group.

    Procedure

    1. Measure 30 mL of universal indicator solution and pour it into a clean small plastic cup.
    2. Pour half the indicator solution into another small cup so that you have two equal samples.
    3. Pour the vinegar on top of the baking soda in one of the wide clear plastic cups. The other wide, clear, plastic cup should be empty.
    4. Stand the small cups with indicator solution in both of the wider cups as shown.

      Students place two small cups containing indicator solution into two wide-mouth cups, one containing vinegar and baking soda, and the other containing nothing.
    5. Turn the two tall cups upside down and place them over the two wider cups.
    6. While holding the top and bottom cups to keep them together, gently swirl both sets of cups. Watch the color of the indicator in both cups to see if there is any change.

      Small cups containing indicator solution are swirled inside a 'vessel' made up of one bigger plastic cup, and another bigger plastic cup turned upside down to meet the first.
    7. Compare the color of the indicator to the pH Color Chart to find out whether the solution is acidic, neutral, or basic.

    Expected Results

    The indicator inside the cups without liquid in the outside remained green while the indicator inside the cups with the chemical reaction turned yellow.

  5. Discuss student observations.

    Ask students:

    Did either indicator change color?
    Only the indicator with the chemical reaction changed color.
    Why did one set of cups have nothing in the bottom?
    It is possible that swirling the indicator solution causes it to change color. Since this indicator did not change color, it must be the carbon dioxide gas produced in the other set of cups that is responsible for the color change. The indicator solution in the set of cups with nothing in the bottom serves as a control.
    What does the color of the indicator solution tell you about the pH of each solution? Is it acidic, neutral, or basic?
    The color change shows that the indicator solution is slightly acidic.
    What could you add to the acidic indicator solution to neutralize it?
    Because the indicator solution is acidic, students should suggest adding a base. Tell students that baking soda is a base.
  6. Neutralize the acidic indicator solution.

    Procedure

    1. Take the tall cup off and remove the small cup from the wide cup.
    2. Add a very small amount of baking soda to the indicator solution. Gently swirl to mix. Compare the color of this indicator solution to the color of the control.

    Expected Results

    The indicator solution should become a shade of green.

    Ask students:

    What did you observe?
    Students should see that a small amount of sodium bicarbonate can neutralize a carbonic acid solution.
  7. Explain

    Explain that carbon dioxide from any source can make water acidic.

    Ask students:

    What did carbon dioxide from breath, carbonated water, and the baking soda and vinegar reaction all do to water?
    The CO2 from each source reacted with the water and made it acidic.

    Project the illustration CO2 Reacting with Water.

    Tell students that carbon dioxide reacts with water to produce carbonic acid. Students may count up the number of atoms on each side of the equation to show that it is balanced. Point out that the double arrow in this equation means that carbonic acid breaks down readily to form carbon dioxide and water again.

    Explain to students that the water in raindrops can react with certain pollutants in the air, making the rain very acidic. We call this “acid rain”, which is bad for fish, other acquatic creatures, marble statues, buildings, and natural rock formations. However, even when the rain falls through unpolluted atmosphere, rainwater is slightly acidic. This is because carbon dioxide is one of the gases in air. As rainwater falls through the air, it reacts with carbon dioxide, forming carbonic acid.

  8. Extend

    Place an Alka-Seltzer® tablet in indicator solution and have students interpret what the color changes say about the pH of the solution.

    Explain that Alka-Seltzer® contains powdered acids and a base. The acids are citric acid, which tastes a little sour, and acetylsalicylic acid, which is aspirin. The base is baking soda, which is also known by its chemical name sodium bicarbonate.

    Tell students that they will observe an Alka-Seltzer tablet in a universal indicator solution. Then they will use what they know about universal indicator and its color changes to describe whether the solution is acidic or basic as the substances in the tablet react.

    Question to Investigate

    How does the pH of the solution change during a chemical reaction between the ingredients in an Alka-Seltzer tablet in water?

    Materials for Each Group

    • Universal indicator solution in cup
    • Water
    • Alka-Seltzer tablet
    • Graduated cylinder
    • Snack-sized zip-closing plastic bag

    Procedure

    1. Add 20 mL of universal indicator solution to a snack-sized zip-closing plastic bag.
    2. Seal the bag.

    Note: So that students do not handle the Alka-Seltzer, which is a medicine, you should place an Alka-Seltzer tablet in each group’s bag.

    Procedure for the Teacher

    1. Add an Alka-Seltzer tablet to each group’s bag by opening the corner of the bag just enough so that the tablet can fit through.

      A teacher adds an Alka Selzer tablet to a plastic bag containing universal indicator solution
    2. Remove as much air as possible and drop the Alka-Seltzer tablet through the small opening.
    3. Seal the bag and hand it to one of the students. Instruct this student to shake the bag and pass it around so that each group member has an opportunity to hold the bag.

    Expected Results

    As soon as the Alka-Seltzer tablet is placed in the bag, the color of the indicator solution changes to red. Bubbles appear in the solution and the bag inflates. The solution also becomes cold. Over time the solution becomes orange, yellow, and finally returns to green.

  9. Discuss student observations.

    As the colors are changing and the bags are inflating, ask students:

    What do the color changes tell you about the pH of the solution at the beginning, middle, and end of the chemical reaction?
    Beginning: The solution is acidic.
    Middle: The solution is becoming less acidic.
    End: The solution is neutralized.

    Students should conclude that the acid and base ingredients in the tablet neutralized one another.

  10. Extra Extend

    Have students research the effects of too much carbon dioxide in ocean water.

    Too much CO2 in the atmosphere can cause something called the greenhouse effect, which makes Earth and its atmosphere warmer. But CO2 can do something else, which you have seen in your experiments. Too much carbon dioxide can cause water to become too acidic. This can be a big problem for fish, aquatic plants, and especially coral.

    Have students research questions such as the following:

    • What is coral and why would too much acid be bad for them?
    • How could we reduce the amount of CO2 that gets into the atmosphere?
    • Even if a large amount of CO2 gets in the atmosphere, what could we do to trap some of it so that it doesn’t get into the oceans?

    You may choose to give students a start to their research by sharing the following website from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: Ocean Acidification

    The site also offers a wealth of resources on ocean acidification and climate change.