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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

Table of Contents

Abstract Volume 23 (2018) pp 58-63

Nitric Acid Acts Upon Copper: Gas Phase Product Analysis of a Historic Reaction Using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy

Trevor M. Sytsma, Amy Li and Jane A. Ganske*

Department of Chemistry, Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Hwy, Malibu, CA 90263,
Received February 7, 2018. Accepted February 26, 2018.

Published: 13 April 2018

Abstract. Vibrational spectroscopy was utilized to investigate the infrared-active, nitrogen-containing gases generated by the historic Ira Remsen reaction, which exploits the action of nitric acid on copper metal. Effective integrated absorption cross sections derived from spectral databases were employed to quantify yields of the major gaseous products. Gases observed include NO2 (and its dimer, N2O4), NO, N2O, cis- and trans-HONO, HNO3 and ClNO, arising from chloride contamination. It was demonstrated that NO2, N2O4 and NO are the dominant gas phase products of the reactions in concentrated and dilute nitric acid, respectively. The experiment described here for the upper-division chemistry laboratory provides a unique context through which to introduce vibrational spectroscopy of diatomic and polyatomic gases and their quantification in mixtures.

Key Words: Laboratories and Demonstrations; upper-division chemistry; physical chemistry; copper; nitric acid; infrared absorption cross section; FTIR spectroscopy; vibrational spectroscopy; physical chemistry laboratory; nitrogen oxides

(*) Corresponding author. (E-mail:

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Supporting Materials:

A detailed student handout and instructor notes are provided. (368 KB)


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