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UPSC Chemistry Miscellaneous Miscellaneous: Chemistry

Miscellaneous: Chemistry

Category : UPSC

 Miscellaneous: Chemistry


1.           Corrosion


  • Corrosion slowly coats the surfaces of metallic objects with oxides or other salts of the metal. The rusting of iron, tarnishing of silver, development of green coating on copper and bronze are some of the examples of corrosion. It causes enormous damage to buildings, bridges, ships and to all objects made of metals especially that of iron. We lose crores of rupees every year on account of corrosion.
  • In corrosion, a metal is oxidised by loss of electrons to oxygen and formation of oxides. Corrosion of iron (commonly known as rusting) occurs in presence of water and air. At a particular spot of an object made of iron, oxidation takes place and that spot behaves as anode.
  • The ferrous ions are further oxidised by atmospheric oxygen to ferric ions which come out as rust in the form of hydrated ferric oxide and with further production of hydrogen ions.
  • Prevention of corrosion is of prime importance. It not only saves money but also helps in preventing accidents such as a bridge collapse or failure of a key component due to corrosion. One of the simplest methods of preventing corrosion is to prevent the surface of the metallic object to come in contact with atmosphere. This can be done by covering the surface with paint or by some chemicals (e.g., bisphenol). Another simple method is to cover the surface by other metals (Sn, Zn, etc.) that are inert or react to save the object. An electrochemical method is to provide a sacrificial electrode of another metal (like Mg, Zn, etc.) which corrodes itself but saves the object.


2.           Rusting of Iron


  • Rusting of Iron is one change that affects iron articles and slowly destroys them. For rusting, the presence of both oxygen and water (or water vapour) is essential.
  • In fact, if the content of moisture in air is high, which means if it is more humid, rusting becomes faster.
  • People who lives near, the coast always complaining about iron articles rusting so fast.
  • So, how do we prevent rusting? Prevent iron articles from coming in contact with oxygen, or water, or both. One simple way is to apply a coat of paint or grease.
  • Another way is to deposit a layer of a metal like chromium or zinc on iron. This process of depositing a layer of zinc on iron is called galvanisation. The iron pipes we use in our homes to carry water are galvanised to prevent rusting.
  • Ships are made of iron and a part of them remains under water. On the part above water also, water drops keep clinging to the ship's outer surface. Moreover, the water of the sea contains many salts. The salt water makes the process of rust formation faster. Therefore, ships suffer a lot of damage from rusting in spite of being painted. So much so, that a fraction of ship's iron has to be replaced every year.
  • Stainless steel is made by mixing iron with carbon and metals like chromium, nickel and manganese. It does not rust.


3.           Lightning


  • During the development of a thunderstorm, the air currents move upward while the water droplets move downward. These vigorous movements cause separation of charges. By a process, not yet completely understood, the positive charges collect near the upper edges of the clouds and the negative charges accumulate near the lower edges. There is accumulation of positive charges near the ground also. When the magnitude of the accumulated charges becomes very large, the air which is normally a poor conductor of electricity, is no longer able to resist their flow. Negative and positive charges meet, producing streaks of bright light and sound. We see streaks as lightning. The process is called an electric discharge.
  • The process of electric discharge can occur between two or more clouds, or between clouds and the earth. Today we need not get frightened by lightning like our ancestors did.
  • During lightning and thunderstorm no open place is safe. Hearing thunder is an alert to rush to a safer place. After hearing the last thunder, wait for some time before coming out of the safe place. A house or a building is a safe place.
  • If we are travelling by car or by bus, we are safe inside with windows and doors of the vehicle shut. Open fields, tall trees, shelters in parks, elevated places do not protect us from lightning strokes. Carrying an umbrella is not at all a good idea during thunderstorms. If in a forest, take shelter under shorter trees.
  • If no shelter is available and we are in an open field, stay far away from all trees. Stay away from poles or other metal objects. Do not lie on the ground. Instead, squat low on the ground. Place our hands on our knees with our head between the hands. This position will make us the smallest target to be struck.
  • Lightning can strike telephone cords, electrical wires and metal pipes. During a thunderstorm contact with these should be avoided. It is safer to use mobile phones and cordless phones.
  • Bathing should be avoided during thunderstorms to avoid contact with running water. Electrical appliances like computers, TVs, etc., should be unplugged. Electrical lights can remain on. They do not cause any harm.
  • Lightning Conductor is a device used to protect buildings from the effect of lightning. A metallic rod, taller than the building, is installed in the walls of the building during its construction. One end of the rod is kept out in the air and the other is buried deep in the ground. The rod provides easy route for the transfer of electric charge to the ground. The metal columns used during construction, electrical wires and water pipes in the buildings also protect us to an extent. But do not touch them during a thunderstorm.


4.           Uses of Aluminum, Copper, Zinc and Iron


  • Aluminium foils are used as wrappers for chocolates. The fine dust of the metal is used in paints and lacquers. Aluminium, being highly reactive, is also used in the extraction of chromium and manganese from their oxides. Wires of aluminium are used as electricity conductors. Alloys containing aluminium, being light, are very useful.
  • Copper is used for making wires used in electrical industry and for water and steam pipes. It is also used in several alloys that are rather tougher than the metal itself, e.g., brass (with zinc), bronze (with tin) and coinage alloy (with nickel).
  • Zinc is used for galvanising iron. It is also used in large quantities in batteries, as a constituent of many alloys, e.g., brass, (Cu 60 per cent, Zn 40 per cent) and german silver (Cu 25-30 per cent, Zn 25-30 per cent, Ni 40-50 per cent). Zinc dust is used as a reducing agent in the manufacture of dye-stuffs, paints, etc.
  • Cast iron, which is the most important form of iron, is used for casting stoves, railway sleepers, gutter pipes, toys, etc. It is used in the manufacture of wrought iron and steel. Wrought iron is used in making anchors, wires, bolts, chains and agricultural implements. Steel finds a number of uses.
  • Alloy steel is obtained when other metals are added to it. Nickel steel is used for making cables, automobiles and aeroplane parts, pendulum, measuring tapes, chrome steel for cutting tools and crushing machines, and stainless steel for cycles, automobiles, utensils, pens, etc.


5.           Hydrocarbons


  • LPG is the abbreviated form of liquified petroleum gas whereas CNG stands for compressed natural gas. Another term 'LNG' (liquified natural gas) is also in news these days. This is also a fuel and is obtained by liquifaction of natural gas.
  • Petrol, diesel and kerosene oil are obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum found under the earth's crust. Coal gas is obtained by the destructive distillation of coal. Natural gas is found in upper strata during drilling of oil wells.
  • The gas after compression is known as compressed natural gas. LPG is used as a domestic fuel with the least pollution. Kerosene oil is also used as a domestic fuel but it causes some pollution.
  • Hydrocarbons are also used for the manufacture of polymers like polythene, polypropene, polystyrene etc. Higher hydrocarbons are used as solvents for paints. They are also used as the starting materials for manufacture of many dyes and drugs.
  • Methane is a gas found in coal mines and marshy places.
  • Dihydrogen gas adds to alkenes and alkynes in the presence of finely divided catalysts like platinum, palladium or nickel to form alkanes. This process is called hydrogenation. These metals adsorb dihydrogen gas on their surfaces and activate the hydrogen-hydrogen bond.
  • Platinum and palladium catalyse the reaction at room temperature but relatively higher temperature and pressure are required with nickel catalysts.
  • Petrol is a mixture of hydrocarbons and is used as a fuel for automobiles. Petrol and lower fractions of petroleum are also used for dry cleaning of clothes to remove grease stains.
  • During incomplete combustion of alkanes with insufficient amount of air or dioxygen, carbon black is formed which is used in the manufacture of ink, printer ink, black pigments and as filters.
  • We are familiar with polythene bags and polythene sheets. Polythene is obtained by the combination of large number of ethene molecules at high temperature, high pressure and in the presence of a catalyst. The large molecules thus obtained are called polymers. This reaction is- known as polymerisation. The simple compounds from which polymers are made are called monomers.
  • Polymers are used for the manufacture of plastic bags, squeeze bottles, refrigerator dishes, toys, pipes, radio and TV. cabinets etc. Polypropene is used for the manufacture of milk crates, plastic buckets and other moulded articles. Though these materials have now become common, excessive use of polythene and polypropylene is a matter of great concern for all of us.
  • Acetylene is used for arc welding purposes in the form of oxyacetylene flame obtained by mixing acetylene with oxygen gas.
  • We are familiar with naphthalene balls which are used in toilets and for preservation of clothes because of unique smell of the compound and the moth repellent property.
  • Under utra-violet light, three chlorine molecules add to benzene to produce benzene hexachloride, \[{{C}_{6}}{{H}_{6}}C{{I}_{6}}\] which is also called gammaxane.
  • Benzene and polynuclear hydrocarbons containing more than two benzene rings fused together are toxic and said to possess cancer producing (carcinogenic) property. Such polynuclear hydrocarbons are formed on incomplete combustion of organic materials like tobacco, coal and petroleum. They enter into human body and undergo various biochemical reactions and finally damage DNA and cause cancer.


6.           Redox Reactions


  • Originally, the term oxidation was used to describe the addition of oxygen to an element or a compound. Because of the presence of dioxygen in the atmosphere (~20 per cent), many elements combine with it and this is the principal reason why they commonly occur on the earth in the form of their oxides.
  • "Oxidation" is defined as the addition of oxygen/electronegative element to a substance or removal of hydrogen/electropositive element from a substance.
  • In the beginning, reduction was considered as removal of oxygen from a compound. However, the term reduction has been broadened these days to include removal of oxygen/electronegative element from a substance or addition of hydrogen/electropositive element to a substance.
  • Oxidation: Loss of electron(s) by any species.
  • Reduction: Gain of electron(s) by any species.
  • Oxidising agent: Acceptor of electron(s).
  • Reducing agent: Donor of electron(s).


7.           Organic Chemistry


  • Organic compounds are vital for sustaining life on earth and include complex molecules like genetic information bearing deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and proteins that constitute essential compounds of our blood, muscles and skin. Organic chemicals appear in materials like clothing, fuels, polymers, dyes and medicines. These are some of the important areas of application of these compounds.
  • Science of organic chemistry is about two hundred years old. Around the year 1780, chemists began to distinguish between organic compounds obtained from plants and animals and inorganic compounds prepared from mineral sources. Berzilius, a Swedish chemist proposed that a ‘vital force’ was responsible for the formation of organic compounds. However, this notion was rejected in 1828 when F. Wohler synthesised an organic compound, urea from an inorganic compound, ammonium cyanate.
  • The pioneering synthesis of acetic acid by Kolbe (1845) and that of methane by Berthelot (1856) showed conclusively that organic compounds could be synthesised from inorganic sources in a laboratory.
  • Citric acid is named so because it is found in citrus fruits and the acid found in red ant is named formic acid since the Latin word for ant is formica.


8.           Methods of Purification of Organic Compounds


  • The common techniques used for purification are as follows :
  • Sublimation: Some solid substances change from solid to vapour state without passing through liquid state. The purification technique based on the above principle is known as sublimation and is used to separate sublimable compounds from nonsublimable impurities.
  • Crystallisation: This is one of the most commonly used techniques for the purification of solid organic compounds. It is based on the difference in the solubilities of the compound and the impurities in a suitable solvent. The impure compound is dissolved in a solvent in which it is sparingly soluble at room temperature but appreciably soluble at higher temperature. The solution is concentrated to get a nearly saturated solution. On cooling the solution, pure compound crystallises out and is removed by filtration. The filtrate (mother liquor) contains impurities and small quantity of the compound. If the compound is highly soluble in one solvent and very little soluble in another solvent, crystallisation can be satisfactorily carried out in a mixture of these solvents. Impurities, which impart colour to the solution are removed by adsorbing over activated charcoal. Repeated crystallisation becomes necessary for the purification of compounds containing impurities of comparable solubilities.
  • Distillation: This important method is used to separate volatile liquids from nonvolatile impurities and the liquids having sufficient difference in their boiling points. Liquids having different boiling points vaporise at different temperatures. The vapours are cooled and the liquids so formed are collected separately. Chloroform (b.p 334 K) and aniline (b.p. 457 K) are easly separated by the technique of distillation. The liquid mixture is taken in a round bottom flask and heated carefully. On boiling, the vapours of lower boiling component are formed first. The vapours are condensed by using a condenser and the liquid is collected in a receiver. The vapours of higher boiling component form later and the liquid can be collected separately.
  • Fractional Distillation: If the difference in boiling points of two liquids is not much, simple distillation cannot be used to separate them. The vapours of such liquids are formed within the same temperature range and are condensed simultaneously. The technique of fractional distillation is used in such cases. In this technique, vapours of a liquid mixture are passed through a fractionating column before condensation. The fractionating column is fitted over the mouth of the round bottom flask.
    • Vapours of the liquid with higher boiling point condense before the vapours of the liquid with lower boiling point. The vapours rising up in the fractionating column become richer in more volatile component. By the time the vapours reach to the top of the fractionating column, these are rich in the more volatile component.
    • A fractionating columns provides many surfaces for heat exchange between the ascending vapours and the descending condensed liquid.
    • Some of the condensing liquid in the fractionating column obtains heat from the ascending vapours and revaporises. The vapours thus become richer in low boiling component. The vapours of low boiling component ascend to the top of the column. On reaching the top, the vapours become pure in low boiling component and pass through the condenser and the pure liquid is collected in a receiver. After a series of successive distillations, the remaining liquid in the distillation flask gets enriched in high boiling component. Each successive condensation and vaporisation unit in the fractionating column is called a theoretical plate. Commercially, columns with hundreds of plates are available.
    • One of the technological applications of fractional distillation is to separate different fractions of crude oil in petroleum industry.
  • Distillation under reduced pressure: This method is used to purify liquids having very high boiling points and those, which decompose at or below their boiling points. Such liquids are made to boil at a temperature lower than their normal boiling points by reducing the pressure on their surface. A liquid boils at a temperature at which its vapour pressure is equal to the external pressure. The pressure is reduced with the help of a water pump or vacuum pump. Glycerol can be separated from spent-lye in soap industry by using this technique.
  • Steam Distillation: This technique is applied to separate substances which are steam volatile and are immiscible with water. In steam distillation, steam from a steam generator is passed through a heated flask containing the liquid to be distilled. The mixture of steam and the volatile organic compound is condensed and collected. The compound is later separated from water using a separating funnel.
  • Differential Extraction: When an organic compound is present in an aqueous medium, it is separated by shaking it with an organic solvent in which it is more soluble than in water. The organic solvent and the aqueous solution should be immiscible with each other so that they form two distinct layers which can be separated by separatory funnel. The organic solvent is later removed by distillation or by evaporation to get back the compound.
  • Chromatography: Chromatography is an important technique extensively used to separate mixtures into their components, purify compounds and also to test the purity of compounds. The name Chromatography is based on the Greek word chroma, for colour since the method was first used for the separation of coloured substances found in plants. In this technique, the mixture of substances is applied onto a stationary phase, which may be a solid or a liquid. A pure solvent, a mixture of solvents, or a gas is allowed to move slowly over the stationary phase. The components of the mixture get gradually separated from one another. The moving phase is called the mobile phase.


9.           Polymers


  • Natural polymers are found in plants and animals. Examples are proteins, cellulose, starch, resins and rubber.
  • Semi-synthetic polymers are Cellulose derivatives as cellulose acetate (rayon) and cellulose nitrate, etc. are the usual examples of this sub category.
  • A variety of synthetic polymers as plastic (polythene), synthetic fibres (nylon 6, 6) and synthetic rubbers (Buna-S) are examples of manmade polymers extensively used in daily life as well as in industry.
  • In Linear polymers consist of long and straight chains. The examples are high density polythene, polyvinyl chloride, etc.
  • Branched chain polymers contain linear chains having some branches, e.g., low density polythene.
  • Cross linked or Network polymers usually formed from bi-functional and tri-functional monomers and contain strong covalent bonds between various linear polymer chains, e.g. bakelite, melamine, etc.
  • Polythene are two of types as given below :


  • Low density polythene: It is obtained by the polymerisation of ethene under high pressure of 1,000 to 2,000 atmospheres at a temperature of 350 K to 570 K in the presence of traces of dioxygen or a peroxide initiator (catalyst). The low density polythene (LDP) obtained through the free radical addition and H-atom abstraction has highly branched structure. Low density polythene is chemically inert and tough but flexible and a poor conductor of electricity. Hence, it is used in the insulation of electricity carrying wires and manufacture of squeeze bottles, toys and flexible pipes.
  • High density polythene: It is formed when addition polymerisation of ethene takes place in a hydrocarbon solvent in the presence of a catalyst such as triethylaluminium and titanium tetrachloride (Ziegler-Natta catalyst) at a temperature of 333 K to 343 K and under a pressure of 6-7 atmospheres. High density polythene (HDP) thus produced, consists of linear molecules and has a high density due to close packing. It is also chemically inert and more tougher and harder. It is used for manufacturing buckets, dustbins, bottles, pipes, etc.


  • Teflon is manufactured by heating tetrafluoroethene with a free radical or persulphate catalyst at high pressures. It is chemically inert and resistant to attack by corrosive reagents. It is used in making oil seals and gaskets and also used for non-stick surface coated utensils.
  • The addition polymerisation of acrylonitrile in presence of a peroxide catalyst leads to the formation of polyacrylonitrile. Polyacrylonitrile is used as a substitute for wool in making commercial fibres as orlon or acrilan.
  • Polyesters are the polycondensation products of dicarboxylic acids and diols. Dacron or terylene is the best known example of polyesters.
  • Dacron fibre (terylene) is crease resistant and is used in blending with cotton and wool fibres and also as glass reinforcing materials in safety helmets, etc.
  • Novolac on heating with formaldehyde undergoes cross linking to form an infusible solid mass called bakelite. It is used for making combs, phonograph records, electrical switches and handles of various utensils.
  • Rubber is a natural polymer and possesses elastic properties. It is also termed as elastomer and has a variety of uses. It is manufactured from rubber latex which is a colloidal dispersion of rubber in water. This latex is obtained from the bark of rubber tree and is found in India, Srilanka, Indonesia, Malaysia and South America.
  • Natural rubber may be considered as a linear polymer of isoprene (2-methyl-l, 3-butadiene) and is also called as cis-1, 4-polyisoprene.
  • Natural rubber becomes soft at high temperature \[\left( >335\text{ }K \right)\]and brittle at low temperatures \[\left( <283\text{ }K \right)\]and shows high water absorption capacity. It is soluble in non-polar solvents and is non-resistant to attack by oxidising agents. To improve upon these physical properties, a process of vulcanisation is carried out. This process consists of heating a mixture of raw rubber with sulphur and an appropriate additive at a temperature range between \[373\text{ }K\]to \[415\text{ }K.\]On vulcanisation, sulphur forms cross links at the reactive sites of double bonds and thus the rubber gets stiffened.
  • In the manufacture of tyre rubber, 5 per cent of sulphur is used as a crosslinking agent.


10.        Important Facts


  • The tremors produce waves on the surface of the earth. These are called seismic waves. The waves are recorded by an instrument called the seismograph. The instrument is simply a vibrating rod, or a pendulum, which starts vibrating when tremors occur. A pen is attached to the vibrating system. The pen records the seismic waves on a paper which moves under it. By studying these waves, scientists can construct a complete map of the earthquake. They can also estimate its power to cause destruction.
  • Like many other scales in science (decibel is another example), Richter scale is not linear. This means that an earthquake of magnitude 6 does not have one and half times the destructive energy of an earthquake of magnitude 4. In fact, an increase of 2 in magnitude means 1000 times more destructive energy. Therefore, an earthquake of magnitude 6 has thousand times more destructive energy than an earthquake of magnitude 4.
  • Hydrogen provides an ideal alternative as its combustion results in water only. Hydrogen production must come from splitting water using solar energy. Therefore, hydrogen can be used as a renewable and non polluting source of energy. This is the vision of the Hydrogen Economy. Both the production of hydrogen by electrolysis of water and hydrogen combustion in a fuel cell will be important in the future. And both these technologies are based on electrochemical principles.
  • Elements vary in abundance. Among metals, aluminium is the most abundant. It is the third most abundant element in earth's crust (\[8.3\]per cent approx. by weight). It is a major component of many igneous minerals including mica and clays. It forms a variety of compounds and their various uses make it a very important element. It is one of the essential elements in biological systems as well.
  • Brass is a mixture of Zinc and Nickel.
  • German Silver is a mixture of Copper, Zinc and Nickel.
  • Bronze is a mixture of Copper and Tin.


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