Electrolysis of Water
This classic demonstration illustrates the decomposition of water into its constituent elements. A small DC voltage is applied to a Hoffman apparatus. The apparatus consists of two gas collecting tubes positioned over platinum electrodes and a reservoir for containing the aqueous electrolyte solution. Hydrogen and oxygen bubbles form on the electrodes and rise to fill the tubes.
This demo can be used at many different places in the curriculum. It is most often used at the beginning of a general chemistry course when the concept of chemical elements is being introduced. But it can also be used when the nature and strength of the covalent bond are being discussed or in a unit on electrochemistry. Allow about 30 minutes for this demo, but you just start it and let it run, so you can lecture for most of the time.
- Hoffman apparatus filled with 0.1 M sulfuric acid electrolyte
- low voltage DC power supply
Rotate the knob on the front of the power supply unit. Line up the pointer with the yellow line. Bubbles will immediately begin forming on the electrodes. When the apparatus has been running for about 10 to 15 minutes, compare the volumes of the gases that have been formed. There should be about twice as much hydrogen as oxygen.
Dilute sulfuric acid is used as the electrolyte. Demonstrators should wear safety goggles whenever they approach the apparatus.