Below is a question from the 2017 USNCO:

The concentration of which approximately 0.01M solution could be most accurately determined by a visible spectrophotometer (or colorimeter)?

(A) $\ce{Mn(NO3)2}$

(B) $\ce{Co(NO3)2}$

(C) $\ce{Zn(NO3)2}$

(D) $\ce{Pb(NO3)2}$

The answer sheet states B is the correct answer.

I researched the colours of the ions in solution, and found:

  • Mn is pink
  • Co is pink
  • Zn is clear
  • Pb is clear

I was unsure how to progress from there.

How should I approach this question in an exam if there was no reference book?

  • $\begingroup$ Can you find any information about the faintness/brightness of the color of given ions? I don't know if there is a standard scale for this. $\endgroup$
    – Tyberius
    Dec 29, 2017 at 2:02
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ This really strikes me as a question where you must just know the answer rather than being able to rationalize it. $\endgroup$
    – MaxW
    Dec 29, 2017 at 4:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is a poor question, and can only be answered properly if only one species is coloured in the visible part of the spectrum (also not defined in the question). How can one determine which can be 'most accurately' determined without knowing something about the instrument to be used. Just because one species may absorb more strongly than another does not mean that it can be measured more accurately: solutions can absorb too much as well as too little. $\endgroup$
    – porphyrin
    Dec 31, 2017 at 18:08

1 Answer 1


An aqueous solution of $\ce{Mn^2+}$ is only faintly pink, whereas that of $\ce{Co^2+}$ is much more colored:

some ionic solutions; image source http://staff.buffalostate.edu/nazareay/che112/3d-22.JPG

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you. Is there any way of determining this in an exam situation? $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2017 at 2:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's probably a good idea to: 1. Cite the source of the image; 2. Explain the intensity of the color based on electron transfer of the complexes. $\endgroup$
    – andselisk
    Dec 29, 2017 at 2:57
  • $\begingroup$ @GeorgeTian, you might be able to say that $\ce{Zn^2+}$ should be colorless because it has filled orbitals, but I'm not aware of a simple way of differentiating between the colors of the other options. $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2017 at 3:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @andselisk, right now I have the image source in what I think is a markdown field for the image description (you'll see it if you try to edit my post), but I'm not sure if it is accessible directly. Do you suggest putting the source explicitly underneath the image? Regarding your other point, I'm not qualified to provide such an explanation, unfortunately. At the USNCO level this is simply a matter of memorization. $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2017 at 3:13
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Unfortunately some sort of unjustified rationalization is often used to explain facts. $\endgroup$
    – MaxW
    Dec 29, 2017 at 3:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.