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5 Ways To Get Students Interested In Separating Mixtures

Grace Chukwuekwu
Teaching with Labster
October 31, 2022

5 Approaches To Get Students Interested In Separating Mixtures

Matter is described as anything that occupies space and has mass. Matter is the substance of the universe. Solids, liquids, and gases are three states of matter generally seen on earth.

Water molecules move differently depending on their physical state. In the gaseous form, they move freely, in the liquid form they have a more limited range of motion, and in the solid form, they do not change position but vibrate in place.

solid liquid gas

Figure 2: Three states of the water molecule.

Read on to discover why this can be a difficult topic for teachers and students, five suggestions for improving outcomes, and ideas for why a virtual lab can make things easier.

Why can separating mixtures be difficult for students to grasp?

There are three main reasons why separating mixtures can be difficult for even the most studious of students.

1. It feels abstract

The separation of mixtures occurs at the molecular level. You cannot see or feel them. Not being able to visualize the process and not seeing its relevance to the real world can frustrate learning and make it difficult for students to stay motivated.

2. This is heavy content

 The state of matter depends on the intermolecular forces (IMF) and kinetic energy (KE) of the particles - be they molecules, ions, or atoms. The chemical identity of the particles in a liquid determines the nature and strength of the intermolecular attractions.

The change in energy in the system determines the phase change. To move from one state of matter to another, we need to add enough energy to overcome the intermolecular forces holding the particles together.

3. It's complicated 

Making ethanol is difficult, so students may be confused about which method is suitable for a particular practice. There are two processes for producing ethanol:

  • Fermentation of carbohydrates by growing yeast cells. Examples: Sugar crops such as beets and sugarcane; Cereals like corn

  • Hydration of ethylene is achieved by passing a mixture of ethylene and excess steam over an acid catalyst at high temperatures and pressure.

 5 ways to make separating mixtures a more convenient topic

With those points in mind, here are five things you can incorporate into separating mixtures lessons to make teaching more engaging, accessible, and enjoyable for you and your students. 

1. Show the people behind the science

The first documented scientific research on this distinction dates back to the Middle Ages, around AD 800, when the alchemist Jabir invented the distillery at Hayyan (Geber), which has been used to filter alcoholic beverages ever since. Ethanol was first produced synthetically in 1826 through the independent efforts of Henry Hennell in England and S.G. Cerulas in France.

 Michael Faraday produced ethanol in 1828 by acid-catalyzed hydration of ethylene, in a process similar to that used for the synthesis of industrial ethanol today.

 2. Give details in your description

Separating mixtures virtual lab

Figure 3: The analytical chemistry lab is available in the separating mixtures simulation from Labster. The simulation is useful for High School and University/College courses

Distillation is the process of separating organic compounds by heating a liquid to purify it into steam, which is then condensed back into a liquid. In this study, we used ethanol as a tool. The study of distillation as a separation technique is extensive and many different types of distillation techniques exist. There are four main types, namely:

  1. Simple distillation: Here the volatile compounds are evaporated and sent through the distillation column to the condenser, where they are finally collected.

  2. Fractional distillation: Used to separate mixtures which have almost similar relative volatility and due to the small difference in boiling points of 25°C.

  3. Vacuum Distillation: It separates the mixture at a temperature much lower than its atmospheric freezing point, therefore, it is mainly used for high boiling solvents such as dimethyl sulfoxide, benzyl alcohol, etc.

  4. Steam Distillation: Used to separate heat-sensitive compounds, e.g. Perfume and essential oil industry.

3. Emphasize that it is useful

Distillation involves mixing fermented ethanol and water and adding heat to separate it, usually at rest. Because ethanol evaporates faster than water, it rises through the tube, collects, and condenses in another container while the water remains. The distillation process involves a tool. When a liquid is heated to vapor, it separates from impurities or other liquids with different evaporation temperatures. The vapor is then transferred to another part of the device where it can be cooled and condensed back into a liquid. The pure form of the original liquid is then called the distillate. An example of a mixture that can be separated by distillation is ethanol.

The condenser is the main part. The upper part is connected to the distillation flask and thermometer via an adapter, the lower part is connected to the receiving flask. The most common capacitors have 2 hollow chambers. Cold water continues to flow in the outer chamber, which cools the glass condenser. Water enters the condenser at the bottom and exits at the top. When the hot steam enters the interior of the condenser, it is cooled by the cold surface, condenses, and flows into the condenser into the collection flask. This setting prevents the hottest steam from touching the coldest water, avoiding heat shock to glassware.

ethanol distillation

Figure 4: An overview of the ethanol distillation process

Ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, grain alcohol, or alcohol, is a member of the class of organic compounds commonly called alcohols, the molecular formula of which is C2H5OH. Ethanol is an important industrial chemical; it is used as a solvent in the synthesis of other organic chemicals. Ethanol is the intoxicating ingredient in many alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, and alcoholic beverages.

4. Define key terms

The important words for the subject being studied are:

  1. Alcohols: Sometimes referred to by the chemical name ethanol, is a psychoactive drug that is the active ingredient in beverages such as beer, wine, and alcoholic beverages.

  2. Compensation: heat exchanger in which hot steam is cooled and condensed into a liquid.

  3. Distillate: a viscous liquid from steam during distillation; purified form.

  4. Distillation: Evaporation and subsequent collection of liquid by condensation as a means of purification.

  5. Fermentation: The change that occurs when yeast converts sugar into alcohol.

5. Encourage the use of our virtual lab simulations 

Figure 5: The analytical chemistry lab is available in the separating mixtures simulation from Labster. The simulation is useful for High School and University/College courses

A unique way to teach separating mixtures is through a virtual laboratory simulation. At Labster, we’re dedicated to delivering fully interactive advanced laboratory simulations that utilize gamification elements like storytelling and scoring systems inside an immersive and engaging 3D universe. 

Separating mixtures virtual lab 2 GIF

Check out the Labster separating mixtures simulation that allows students to help a town concentrate ethanol to support them during their fuel shortage crisis.

Learn more about the separating mixtures simulation here, or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

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