Anchoring chemistry.

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I was reminded of this article by Michelle Francl[1], where she poses the question “What anchor values would most benefit students as they seek to hone their chemical intuition?” She gives as common examples: room temperature is 298.17K (actually 300K, but perhaps her climate is warmer than that of the UK!), the length of a carbon-carbon single bond, the atomic masses of the more common elements.

Well, one of my own personal favourites is anchoring chemical timescales. From 10-18 s (that of electron dynamics, and presumably the fastest processes in chemistry) to 10+18 (approximately the age of the universe). And (for a unimolecular process) this can be reduced to this equation:  Ln(k/T) = 23.76 – ΔG/RT I quoted this equation in a recent post, since it gives you the fastest possible chemical reaction if ΔG is set to zero (which of course is not a reaction but a vibration), but which gives you a good estimate of how fast a process will be for any given value of a barrier. It can of course also be solved for e.g. the required barrier to achieve a half-life equivalent to the age of the universe. So, perhaps in increments of orders of 3 magnitudes (of which there are 13 covering the above span) would anyone like to contribute either:

  1. Their own favourite chemical anchor, or
  2. Their own favourite example of a chemical timescale bounded by the above limits?

(I did start a list of the latter for our own students, but it is still pretty sparse!)

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  1. M. Francl, "Take a number", Nature Chem, vol. 5, pp. 725-726, 2013.

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2 Responses to “Anchoring chemistry.”

  1. Ian Kirker says:

    I’m not sure this really counts so much as an anchor, but I do find useful as a mental guide sets of photos demonstrating what a mole of each of a collection of materials looks like, e.g. this one:
    (Though, they’re better if the photographer includes a common reference item for size.)

  2. It probably is warmer where I am than the UK; at least my office is generally closer to 300 K than 298. But I’m trying, too, to get students to work with just one significant figure, hence 300 K, not 298.17…

    I like the time idea — here is one version of what I share with students:

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