What are Chemical Reactions?

by Carson
Picture of instrument used for chemical experiments

Chemicals can react with each other! That’s what makes iron turn into rust, things to explode, and even keeping us alive!

What are chemical reactions?

So, what are these reactions? Well, it is a process of substances changing their chemical formula. They form or break chemical bonds. Therefore, the structures of those molecules change.

Have you ever watched sodium exploding in water? That’s a type of simple chemical reaction. Because sodium is much more active than hydrogen, it replaces the atom in the water molecule. The chemical energy released is now heat, so it heats up and explodes.

Sodium exploding in water
Image Source: Thoisoi

Then, what types of chemical reactions are these?

Well, there are a few basic types of it. First of all, you have probably heard of combustions as fires. It happens when a substance reacts with oxygen, which can sustain a fire. That means when the reactant heats up, it can catch on fire.

Also, if you put lithium or some other types of metal, it oxidizes in air. That is a synthesis and it put 2 substances together into a compound. For example, when lithium is in air, it forms lithium oxide and lithium nitride. Fun fact, lithium is the only metal that can form nitrides at room temperature.

Lithium oxidizing in air
Image Source: Thoisoi

Another is decomposition. It means a compound separates into 2 or more substances. For example, hydrogen peroxide breaks down into hydrogen and oxygen slowly at room temperature.

Moreover, there are replacements. It has a more straightforward single replacement and a more complex double replacement. In fact, sodium exploding in water is due to a single replacement reaction, in which the active sodium replaces the hydrogen in water. There are also double replacements, which has a formula of AD + BC = AB + CD.

If an atom loses electrons, it is an oxidation event, in which the element is turned into different oxidation states. For example, chlorine easily catches an electron, which makes its oxidation state -1. Or, it can lose all 7 outer electrons, which makes the index +7.

Safety and benefits

Metabolism is a tremendous series of chemical reactions which is responsible for our survival. Also, complex molecules that make up RNA result from a lot of complicated reactions in past living organisms. So, without it, there would be no such things as we know it.

However, even though they can bring life, they can cause severe damage. Think of the reaction between sodium and water. Does it explode and catch on fire? And that’s the danger because they can burn our skin and cause injury. Furthermore, it can form dangerous substances such as the infamous sulfuric acid. They can be perilously corrosive, flammable and even explosive.

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