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Electrolytes and Nonelecrolytes

Discusses the conductivity of solutions.

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Am I Drinking Electricity?

Am I Drinking Electricity?

Credit: Andrew Rivett
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/72139255@N00/2573076568
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Many sports drinks claim to be prepared with healthy electrolytes; however, many people have no idea what an electrolyte is! Do you know what they are and why your body may need them? Read on!

Amazing But True!

  • You may be aware that much of the “long distance” communication in your body occurs by electrical messages. In order for this to happen effectively, your body needs to maintain a careful balance of dissolved ions in water – electrolytes. Sports drinks have sugar and dissolved ions, such as sodium and chloride ions. But which of these are electrolytes?
  • Credit: Health Gauge
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/healthgauge/9209482356/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Sports drinks contain a combination of sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium ions [Figure2]

  • Interestingly, even outside of your body, if you dissolved various solutes in water you will have solutions that can either easily conduct electricity (electrolytes are present) or solutions that do not conduct electricity (electrolytes are absent). This is a simple but very useful measure of whether something is an electrolyte. Watch the video below and try to determine if sugar or sodium and chloride ions are electrolytes.


Can You Apply It?

With the links below, learn more about electrolytes and conductivity in water. Play with the sugar and the salt solutions simulation. Make sure you vary the concentration of the sugar and salt (add more solute or add more water to dilute the solution). Place the light-bulb conductivity-measuring device in the solution to measure the conductivity of your various solutions. Answer the following questions.

  1. Which of the following is an electrolyte: sugar or salt? Why?
  2. Scientists can measure the conductivity (ability to pass electricity) of water samples taken from a stream, lake or water treatment facility. The conductivity of the water samples can range from non-conductive to very conductive. How is the conductivity of the sample related to the purity of the water?
  3. Solid salt (sodium chloride) is not a very good conductor of electricity. Does this surprise you? Why? (Note: This is a pretty deep question. Think about it first).

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    Image Attributions

    1. [1]^ Credit: Andrew Rivett; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/72139255@N00/2573076568; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
    2. [2]^ Credit: Health Gauge; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/healthgauge/9209482356/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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