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Reversible Reactions

Introduces reversible chemical reactions.

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No Going Back

No Going Back

Credit: William Wallace Denslow
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Denslow%27s_Humpty_Dumpty_1904.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

The fall of Humpty-Dumpty could be considered a type of decomposition reaction. The initial structure (the egg) and the final structure (egg shells) are different. The initial state cannot be restored again, so this “reaction” is also non-reversible. Many situations in life are not ones that can be reversed so we can go back to way things were “before...”, whatever is implied in the “before” statement.

Why It Matters

  • Thomas Wolfe was a controversial twentieth century novelist. His first novel, Look Homeward, Angel, described events in a mythical town that was closely modeled after his home town of Asheville, North Carolina. His unflattering observations created a great deal of anger in the citizens of that city, and Wolfe could not even go back for several years. In more recent years, Asheville and Wolfe have come to some sort of reconciliation, with the town establishing a memorial site in his honor.
  • Logging on federal lands is controversial today. The trees that are cut down are gone forever. Yes, new trees can be planted, but growth takes years. Selective removal of trees and underbrush decreases the possibility of forest fires, minimizing damage to the environment. Cutting down a tree cannot be reversed; growing new trees requires a separate process.
  • Credit: Oregon Department of Forestry
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oregondepartmentofforestry/10349555585
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Logging and lumber are still active industries in the U.S. However, many of the companies now practice sustainable logging to ensure the longterm health of the forest [Figure2]

  • When will we run out of oil? Estimates vary, but there is a limit to these non-renewable energy sources. Although some materials can be recovered and recycled, once the gasoline goes into the tank and is burned by the car engine, it cannot be restored.
  • Watch a video about reversible reactions at the following web site:


What Do You Think?

Use the links below to learn more about reversible and nonreversible reactions. Then answer the following questions.

  1. Why is baking a cake an irreversible reaction?
  2. Is the ripening of fruit a reversible or irreversible reaction?
  3. Why is the thermal decomposition of hydrated copper sulfate a reversible reaction?
  4. Is rusting reversible or irreversible?
  5. Was Thomas Wolfe’s broken relationship with his home town reversible or irreversible?

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    Image Attributions

    1. [1]^ Credit: William Wallace Denslow; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Denslow%27s_Humpty_Dumpty_1904.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
    2. [2]^ Credit: Oregon Department of Forestry; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oregondepartmentofforestry/10349555585; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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