Finding the formula of a metal oxide experimentally

The formulae of metal oxides can be found experimentally by reacting a metal with oxygen and recording the mass changes.

Example: When magnesium is burned in air, it reacts with oxygen (O2) to form magnesium oxide (MgO).

• Weigh a crucible and lid
• Place the magnesium ribbon in the crucible, replace the lid, and reweigh
• Calculate the mass of magnesium
   (mass of crucible + lid + Magnesium – mass of crucible + lid)
• Heat the crucible with lid on until the magnesium burns
   (lid prevents magnesium oxide escaping therefore ensuring accurate results)
• Lift the lid from time to time (this allows air to enter)
• Stop heating when there is no sign of further reaction
   (this ensures all Mg has reacted)
• Allow to cool and reweigh
• Repeat the heating , cooling and reweigh until two consecutive masses are the same
   (this ensures all Mg has reacted and therefore the results will be accurate)
• Calculate the mass of magnesium oxide formed (mass of crucible + lid + Magnesium oxide – mass of crucible + lid)


Finding the formula of a salt containing water of crystallisation

When some substances crystallise from solution, water becomes chemically bound up with the salt.  This is called water of crystallisation and the salt is said to be hydrated. For example, hydrated copper sulfate has the formula  CuSO4.5H2O  which formula indicates that for every CuSO4 in a crystal there are five water (H2O) molecules.

When you heat a salt that contains water of crystallisation, the water is driven off leaving the anhydrous (without water) salt behind. If the hydrated copper sulfate (CuSO4.5H2O) are strongly heated in a crucible then they will break down and the water lost, leaving behind anhydrous copper sulfate (CuSO4). The method followed is similar to that for metal oxides, as shown above. The difference of mass before and after heating is the mass of the water lost. These mass numbers can be used to obtain the formula of the salt.