If I start out with 100 mM acetic acid, what substance (to a final concentration of 1 M) could I add to change the pH considerably? I was thinking of NaCl or ethanol or acetone. Substances added should not be acids or bases, i.e. a 1 M solution of them should have a pH close to neutral. I'm asking because I am trying to create a demonstration on how pH calculations are just approximations under non-ideal conditions.

The acetic acid should not undergo an chemical reaction (other than acid/base). I would use a pH meter to monitor the pH. I would have a control where I increase the volume to match the experiment where I add a substance that influences the pH (or dissolve the substance in 100 mM acetic acid to keep the acetic acid concentration constant).

I am looking for changes in pH based on non-ideal behavior. The concentration of acetic acid should remain the same, and there should not be any neutralization reaction. In other words, the calculate pH should stay at 2.87 (assuming ideal conditions) while the measured pH would change.

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    $\begingroup$ This is an interesting question. The easiest way is to the change the properties of the solvent. Add something like DMSO. $\endgroup$ – Zhe Jan 4 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ If your initial solvent is water, the easiest to increase the concentration of aceitic acid and, therefore, increase the pH would be to somehow decrease the volume of water. Possibly look for a way to evaporate water. Distilling the solution might be tricky since the boiling point of acetic acid and water are close (118 celsius). Another way might be to use a dehydrating agent to eliminate water. The best dehydrating agent I can think of are all strong acids (sulfuric and phosphoric). However, hot aluminum oxide might also work (if it doesn't have any side reactions with aceitic acid). $\endgroup$ – Ethiopius Jan 4 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not entirely sure, but probably some neutral buffer or a zwitterion with $\mathrm{pI}$ close to neutral would satisfy the requirements as either of those separately a) would have a pH close to neutral; b) effectively "capture" protons and keep $\mathrm{pH}$ close to 7. $\endgroup$ – andselisk Jan 4 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ @andselisk I appreciate the thoughtful comments, you are helping me to write a better question. Adding a second phase would be fine (there is a second phase already - air - and it might get me into trouble if CO2 starts dissolving in my solution). $\endgroup$ – Karsten Theis Jan 4 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ Here's another idea: what about adding or removing heat (i.e. showing the temperature dependency of kw)? It's not the exact scenario you ask for, but, in terms of showing that pH is based on ideal conditions, it should make the students question the validity of the kw = 1E-14 assumption. $\endgroup$ – Van Jan 4 at 20:12

perhaps you are looking at the wrong system.

get a salt that is fairly well ionised eg aluminium sulfate.

get something neutral that complexes the metal and leaves it in solution. Seem to remember observing it long ago, but I cannot remember with certainty but sodium gluconate , or gluconic acid seem to ring a bell.


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