Diffusion of gases – ammonia and hydrogen chloride
ammonia solution is placed on a pad in one end of a tube and concentrated hydrochloric acid on a pad at the other. After about a minute the far enough to meet and a ring of solid ammonium chloride is formed. gases diffuse
This demonstration is best performed in a fume cupboard. A black background, such as a sheet of black sugar paper, behind the demonstration helps the white ring to be seen more clearly. Actually performing the demonstration takes only a few minutes.
For one demonstration:
Eye protection (goggles)
Access to a fume cupboard
Protective gloves, preferably nitrile
A length of glass tube about half a metre long with an inside diameter of about 2 cm (Note 1)
Retort stands with bosses and clamps, 2
Small wads of cotton wool, 2
Bungs, to fit into the ends of the glass tube, 2
Strip of universal indicator paper (optional)
Concentrated hydrochloric acid (CORROSIVE), a few cm
3 (Note 2)
880 ammonia solution (CORROSIVE, DANGEROUS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT), a few cm
3 (Note 2)
Acetone (FLAMMABLE), a few cm
3 (optional) (Note 1)
Refer to Health & Safety and Technical notes section below for additional information.
Health & Safety and Technical notes
Read our standard health & safety guidance
The demonstrator should wear goggles and protective gloves.
Concentrated hydrochloric acid, HCl(aq), (CORROSIVE) - see CLEAPSS
Hazcard. Produces hydrogen chloride gas, HCl(g), (TOXIC, CORROSIVE) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard.
880 ammonia solution, NH
3(aq), (CORROSIVE, DANGEROUS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard. Produces ammonia gas, NH 3(g), (TOXIC) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard. Care should be taken when opening the bottle of ammonia solution, particularly on hot days when pressure can build up in the bottle. If the bottle of ammonia is kept for a long time, its concentration may decrease which will lessen the effectiveness of the demonstration.
It is very important that the tube is clean and completely dry for this experiment. If necessary, the tube can be dried by pushing a cotton wool pad soaked in acteone through the tube and leaving it for a few minutes. 1
The concentrated hydrochloric acid and the 880 ammonia solution are easier to handle in small bottles than in Winchesters (large bottles) for this demonstration. 2
Working in the fume cupboard, clamp the glass tube at either end, ensuring that it is horizontal. a
Open the bottle of ammonia solution cautiously, pointing the bottle away from both you and the audience. Open the bottle of hydrochloric acid and hold the stopper near the mouth of the ammonia bottle. Note the white clouds of ammonium chloride that form. b
Put one of the cotton wool wads in the mouth of the ammonia bottle and carefully invert it to soak one side of it. Push the soaked end into one end of the glass tube. Replace the lid on the bottle. c
Repeat this procedure quickly with a second wad of cotton wool and hydrochloric acid. Put the cotton wool wad into the other end of the glass tube. d
Putting bungs into the ends of the glass tube will reduce the quantity of the gases which escape and therefore the smell. Once assembled, the tube can be removed from the fume cupboard. e
Watch the tube and observe a ring of white powder forming near the middle of the tube. This is ammonium chloride. f
The reaction which is taking place is:
ammonia + hydrogen chloride → ammonium chloride
3 (g) + HCl (g) → NH 4Cl (s)
The exact time taken for the ring to form will depend on the dimensions of the tube, the amount of the solutions which are put on the cotton wool wads and the temperature of the room.
The ring usually forms nearer to the hydrochloric acid end of the tube because hydrogen chloride diffuses more slowly than ammonia. This is because hydrogen chloride has almost twice the molecular weight of ammonia, and the rate of diffusion is inversely proportional to the square root of the molecular mass of the gas.
It is worth noting that the rate of diffusion is not the same as the speed at which the gas molecules travel (which is hundreds of meters per second). The gas molecules follow a zig-zag path through the tube as they collide with the air molecules in the tube.
The purpose of the glass tube is to eliminate air currents and to see if the gas molecules will move on their own.
Health & Safety checked, 2016
This Practical Chemistry resource was developed by the Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
© Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry
Page last updated October 2015