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Heterogeneous Mixture

MIxtures that have an inconsistent composition

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Heterogeneous Mixtures

Handful of jelly beans

Credit: User:Coolgirly88/Wikipedia
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:100_1373.JPG
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

What's the best way to eat a bag of jelly beans?

Many people open the bag and eat all the candy, no matter what flavor each piece is. Others pick through the collection. They might say “I don’t like the orange ones.” Or maybe they just care for the lemon ones. There are different kinds of jelly beans in the mixture and people will eat what they want and get rid of the rest.

Heterogeneous Mixtures

A heterogeneous mixture is a mixture in which the composition is not uniform throughout the mixture. Vegetable soup is a heterogeneous mixture. Any given spoonful of soup will contain varying amounts of the different vegetables and other components of the soup.

A phase is any part of a sample that has a uniform composition and properties. By definition, a pure substance or a homogeneous mixture consists of a single phase. A heterogeneous mixture consists of two or more phases.  When oil and water are combined, they do not mix evenly, but instead form two separate layers. Each of the layers is called a phase.

Oil and water form a heterogeneous mixture

Credit: Flickr: Yortw
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yortw/5470226807/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Oil and water do not mix, instead forming two distinct layers called phases. The oil phase is less dense than the water phase and so the oil floats on top of the water.[Figure2]

In the vegetable soup example, one phase would be the liquid soup itself. This phase has vitamins, minerals, and other components dissolved in the water. This phase would be homogeneous. The carrots, peas, corn, or other vegetables represent other phases of the soup. The various vegetables are not mixed evenly mixed in the soup, but are spread around at random.

There are a large number of heterogeneous mixtures around us. Soil is composed of a variety of substances and is often of different composition depending on the sample taken. One shovel may come up with dirt and grass while the next shovel could contain an earthworm.

Smog is another example of a heterogeneous mixture. This murky collection of pollutants can be a mixture of water and contaminants from burning gasoline or plastics mixed with nitric oxide derivatives and ozone. You can see that the smog distribution in the air illustrate below is not evenly spread out, but varies from one part of the atmosphere to another.

Smog is a heterogeneous mixture

Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr./CDC
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SmogNY.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Smog in New York City.[Figure3]


  • A heterogeneous mixture is a mixture in which the composition is not uniform throughout the mixture.
  • A phase is a separate layer in a heterogeneous mixture.


  1. Define a heterogeneous mixture.
  2. Why is vegetable soup a heterogeneous mixture?
  3. How many phases are in a heterogeneous mixture?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: User:Coolgirly88/Wikipedia; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:100_1373.JPG; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Flickr: Yortw; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yortw/5470226807/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  3. [3]^ Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr./CDC; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SmogNY.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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