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A microscale acid-base titration

Class practical
A microscale titration apparatus is prepared from pipettes, a syringe and some rubber or plastic tubing. This is then used to carry
out a titration by filling the ‘burette’ with hydrochloric acid and placing 1 cm3 of sodium hydroxide solution in a 10 cm3
beaker. The aim is to calculate the exact concentration of the sodium hydroxide solution.

Lesson organisation
In this microscale technique manipulative skills are important, and students need to be capable of careful manipulation to carry
this out successfully. Students also need to be familiar with the concept of the mole, and capable of performing the calculations
from the results of the experiment.

On such a small scale, safety issues are minimal. Similarly, the time taken to carry out a titration should be much reduced as the
volumes being reacted are so small. It should be possible for a class to carry out the practical work and calculations in a one-
hour session.

Apparatus Chemicals
Each working group will Each working group will require:
require microscale titration Dilute hydrochloric acid, 0.10 M,
apparatus (Note 1) comprising: about 10 cm3
Graduated glass pipette (2 cm3) Sodium hydroxide solution,
Pipette (1 cm3) + pipette filler to approx. 0.1 M (IRRITANT), about
fit (or a 1 cm3 plastic syringe) 10 cm3
Plastic syringe (10 cm3) Phenolphthalein indicator solution
Fine-tip poly(ethene) dropping (HIGHLY FLAMMABLE), a few
pipette (Note 2) drops
Small lengths of rubber, plastic Refer to Health & Safety and
or silicone tubing Technical notes section below
Beakers (10 cm3), 2 for additional information.
Clamp stand with two bosses
and clamps

Health &Safety and Technical notes

Read our standard health &safety guidance

Wear eye protection.

Dilute hydrochloric acid, HCl(aq) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard and CLEAPSS Recipe Book.

Sodium hydroxide solution, NaOH(aq), (IRRITANT at concentration used) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard and CLEAPSS Recipe
Book. Students are to calculate the concentration of the sodium hydroxide solution so the bottle should not be labelled with the
exact concentration.

Phenolphthalein indicator solution (HIGHLY FLAMMABLE) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard and CLEAPSS Recipe Book.

1 The microscale titration apparatus replaces the normal burette. To make the microscale titration apparatus, cut the tip end off a
fine-tip poly(ethene) dropping pipette and push the tip carefully onto the end of a 2 cm3 graduated glass pipette. Clamp a plastic
syringe, 10 cm3capacity, above the adapted pipette, as shown in the picture, and connect the two with rubber, plastic, or silicone
tubing. Because the diameters of the syringe nozzle and of the top of the pipette may be quite different, two pieces of tubing, one
to fit each end, will probably be needed; these can then be joined by an adaptor. A suitable adaptor can be made by cutting the
lower end off a 1 cm3 plastic syringe, such that the syringe body diameter fits the wider tubing, and the syringe tip fits the
narrower tubing. See diagram and photograph.

It is possible for students to build their own microscale titration apparatus from supplied components, but this is likely to take the
students more time than the titration itself! For that reason, it is probably preferable to prepare a class set of these in advance.

2 A suitable poly(ethene) dropping pipette would be fine-tip standard, non-sterile, 3.3 cm3 capacity, such as those available from

a Clamp the microscale titration apparatus securely in position as in photograph and push the syringe plunger completely down.

b Fill the apparatus with 0.10 M hydrochloric acid as follows. Put about 5 cm3 of the acid in a 10 cm3 beaker and place the tip of
the apparatus well down into the solution. Raise the syringe plunger slowly and gently, making sure no air bubbles are drawn in.
Fill the pipette exactly to the zero mark. Release the plunger; the level should remain steady.

c Use the 1 cm3 pipette and pipette filler to transfer exactly 1.0 cm3 of the sodium hydroxide solution into a clean 10 cm3 beaker.

d Add one drop (no more!) of phenolphthalein indicator solution to the sodium hydroxide solution.

e Adjust the position of the microscale titration apparatus so that the tip is just below the surface of the sodium hydroxide and
indicator solution in the beaker

f Titrate the acid solution into the alkali by pressing down on the syringe plunger very gently, swirling to allow each tiny addition
to mix and react before adding more.
g Continue until the colour of the indicator just turns from pink to permanently colourless.

h Record the volume of hydrochloric acid added at that point.

i Repeat the titration until you get reproducible measurements – that is, the volume required is the same in successive titrations.

j Calculate the concentration of the sodium hydroxide solution as follows.

The equation for the neutralisation reaction is:

HCl(aq) + NaOH(aq) NaCl(aq) + H2O(l)

From the equation you can see that one mole of hydrochloric acid reacts with one mole of
sodium hydroxide.

1 What was the reliable value for the volume of hydrochloric acid solution needed? Let us call this value V cm3.

2 Calculate the number of moles of hydrochloric acid in this volume using the formula: V/1000 x C , where C is the concentration
of the hydrochloric acid in M.

3 How many moles of sodium hydroxide were therefore present in the original 1 cm3 of sodium hydroxide solution placed in the

4 Now calculate how many moles of sodium hydroxide would have been present in 1000 cm3 . This is the concentration of the
sodium hydroxide solution in moldm-3.

Teaching notes
This microscale technique minimises apparatus and chemical requirements, and takes less time to perform than titration on the
usual scale. Although the solutions used do present minor hazards, the use of such small quantities reduces risks from those
hazards to very low levels. Students should nevertheless take all usual precautions in handling these solutions. The main risk is
from misuse of the syringe or pipettes, especially if containing hazardous solutions.

The technique also makes the point that quantitative chemical experimentation does not always have to be performed on the
traditional ‘bucket’ scale at school level.

Health and safety checked 2016

This Practical Chemistry resource was developed by the Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

© Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry

Other examples of school use of microscale titration can be found at:

David W. Brooks - Teaching and Research

Idaho Chemical Roundup - a discussion of the benefits of microscale work in schools, including titrations.

Sargent-Welch - a commercial site which can supply ready-made microscale titration kits.

Page last updated October 2015