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Chapter 4.6:Ionic Bonding

CHAPTER 5

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Our discussion up to now has centered on types of bonds that involve valence electrons being “shared” between different atoms. We have seen that the electron density can be considered to be equally distributed between the bonding atoms, or that it may be distorted by being attracted to the more electronegative atom. What we have not looked at yet is the extreme case of this kind of distortion, in which the valence electrons are attracted so much by the electronegative atom that they are transferred completely. This kind of bonding is called ionic bonding (as you are almost certainly already aware).

4.1 Heterogeneous compounds 4.2 Single bonds 4.3 Double & triple bonds 4.4 N, O, F 4.5 Molecular Shape 4.6 Ionic bonding

Let us take a look at some common ionic compounds and see if we can make some sense of their properties from a consideration of their atomic-molecular structure. For the sake of simplicity we will confine ourselves (for the moment) to binary compounds - compounds with only two elements in them.

The most familiar of these compounds is sodium chloride (NaCl), common table salt. NaCl is a “continuous compound”, much like diamond (see Chapter 3). NaCl is a solid at room temperature, with a very high melting point (801 °C), similar to the melting points of silver (961.78 °C) and gold (1064.18 °C), although much lower than the decomposition temperature of diamond (3550 °C). An interesting difference between diamond and sodium chloride occurs on heating. Remember, diamond does not melt; it decomposes once enough energy is added to the system to break the C–C bonds. Under normal circumstances, the carbon atoms react with oxygen (O2) in the air to form carbon dioxide - a process that requires the addition of lots of energy to reverse (as we will see later). On the other hand NaCl melts (solid → liquid) and freezes (liquid → solid), much like water. Based on this difference, we might be tempted to conclude that covalent bonds are not broken when salt melts, but that something stronger that the H-bonds that hold water molecules together are broken - what could that be? A hint comes from studies first carried out by the English chemistry Humphrey Davy. Davy used a Voltaic Pile to study the effects of passing electricity through a range of substances. While solid table salt did not conduct electricity, liquid (molten) salt did. Not only did it conduct electricity, but when electricity (electrons) was passed through it, it decomposed to produce globules of a shiny, highly reactive metal – sodium (Na), and a pale green gas – chlorine (Cl2). Davy correctly (as it turned out) deduced that the elements in table salt – what we now know as sodium and chlorine - are held together by “electrical forces”. Just what caused those electrical forces was not discovered until the atomic nature of matter was elucidated over 100 years later.

It takes a great deal of energy to change table salt into its constituent elements. First the salt has to be heated to its melting point, then electrical energy must be added to release the elements sodium and chlorine. The reverse reaction, combining the elements sodium and chlorine (don’t do this at home) produces sodium chloride and releases a great deal of energy (411 kJ/mol). Given the release of energy, we suspect that bonds are being formed during this reaction. One of the important principles of chemistry is that structure on the atomic-molecular level is reflected in the behavior of materials in the “real world”. So, let us review some the real world properties of sodium chloride: it forms colorless crystals that are often cubical in shape and are hard and brittle it has a high melting point and conducts electricity when melted, but not in the solid state.Based on these properties, and what we know about interactions, bonds, and electricity, we can begin to make hypotheses about how atoms are organized in NaCl. For example, the fact that NaCl is a stable crystalline solid at room temperature and that it melts at a high temperature implies that forces holding the atoms together are strong and that these forces (bonds) persist upon melting. The regular shape of salt crystals implies that bonds holding the atoms together extend in three dimensions with some regular pattern. If you take a large salt crystal and give it a sharp knock it will break cleanly along a flat surface. Diamond does not behave in this way, and needs to be polished (rather than broken). The ability of molten, but not solid, salt to conduct electricity suggests that melting leads to the appearance of moveable, electrically charged particles. The current interpretation of all these observations and experiments is that in the solid state salt (NaCl) is held together by the coulombic (electrical) attractions between sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl–) ions. So when sodium metal (Na) reacts with chlorine (Cl2) gas, sodium and chloride ions are produced. In the solid state, these ions are strongly attracted to each other and cannot move, but they can move in the molten (liquid) state, and their movement is what conducts electricity (electrons).

Ionized Metals

One way to think of ionic bonding is that it is the extreme limit of a polar covalent bond. Typically, simple ionic compounds are formed from elements on the left hand side of the periodic table (metals, such as sodium) and elements on the right hand side (non-metals, such as chlorine). The non-metals tend to have a high electronegativity (caused by the high effective nuclear charge), while the metals have low electronegativity – their valence electrons are not very strongly attracted to their nuclei. When a metal atom meets a non-metal atom, the non-metal attracts the valence electrons from the metal, so that for all intents and purposes electrons move from the metal atom (which then has a net positive charge) to the non-metal atom (which now has a net negative charge). This effect, however, applies only to the electrons in the unfilled valence shells. Electrons in a metal atoms filled core orbitals require a lot more energy to remove (why? because they are closer to the positively charged nucleus). If there is a single outer shell electron (as is the case with Na and other group I metals), that electron is often lost and the resulting atom (now called an ion) has a single positive charge (Na+). If there are two outer shell electrons (as in the case of the group II metals, such as Calcium and Magnesium), both can be lost to produce doubly charged ions, such as Ca++ and Mg++ (often written as Ca2+ and Mg2+). At the other side of the periodic table, the non-metals show exactly the opposite pattern, gaining electrons to become negatively charged ions.

Question to answer:

Why do you think the melting point of table salt is so high? (it is over 800 °C) What properties do you associate with a solid? What happens on the atomic molecular level when a solid melts? Look up the melting points of different solids and explain the trends (if any) that you find. Why don’t metals tend to gain electrons? Why don’t non-metals lose electrons? What happens to the size of a sodium atom when it loses an electron to become Na+? What happens to the size of a chlorine atom when it gains an electron and becomes Cl-?

Questions to ponder :

Why doesn’t solid table salt conduct electricity? Why does molten table salt conduct electricity?

Back to sodium chloride By this point, we have concluded that NaCl is composed of Na+ ions (cations) and Cl– ions (anions), but we have not yet discussed how these ions are arranged with respect to one another in space. As you may have come to expect, there is usually more than one way to represent a chemical structure. Different models emphasize different features of a substance, but none of them are real in the sense that if we could look at the molecular level structure these models are not what we would see. At the same time, visible cubes of salt crystals provide a clue to atomic-molecular structure. If we follow the structure down from the macroscopic to the molecular – this cubic/rectangular structure is retained.


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A picture of sodium chloride showing the relative positions of the ions illustrates this cubic organization.