Introduction to Acids and Bases
Acids and bases play a central role in chemistry because, with the exception of redox reactions, every chemical reaction can be classified as an acid-base reaction. Our understanding of chemical reactions as acid-base interactions comes from the wide acceptance of the Lewis definition of acids and bases, which supplanted both the earlier Bronsted-Lowry concept and the first definition--the Arrhenius model. Arrhenius first defined acids as proton (H+) producers in aqueous solution and bases as hydroxide (OH-) producers. Although this model is intuitively correct, it is limited to substances that include proton and hydroxide groups. Bronsted and Lowry proposed the more general definitions of acids and bases as proton donors and acceptors, respectively. Unlike the Arrhenius conception, the Bronsted-Lowry model accounts for acids in solvents other than water, where the proton transfers do not necessarily involve hydroxide ions. But the Bronsted-Lowry model fails to explain the observation that metal ions make water more acidic (discussed in Calculating pH's). Finally, Lewis gave us the more general definition of acids and bases that we use today. According to Lewis, acids are electron pair acceptors and bases are electron pair donors. Any chemical reaction that can be represented as a simple exchange of valence electron pairs to break and form bonds is therefore an acid-base reaction.
Acid-base chemistry is important to us on a practical level as well, outside of laboratory chemical reactions. Our bodily functions, ranging from the microscopic transport of ions across nerve cell membranes to the macroscopic acidic digestion of food in the stomach, are all ruled by the principles of acid-base chemistry. Homeostasis, the temperature and chemical balances in our bodies, is maintained by acid-base reactions. For example, fluctuations in the pH, or concentration of hydrogen ions, of our blood is moderated at a comfortable level through use of buffers. Learning how buffers work and what their limitations are can help us to better understand our physiology. We will start by introducing fundamentals of acid-base chemistry and the calculation of pH, and then we will cover techniques for measuring pH. We learn about buffers and see how they are applied to measure the acidic content of solutions through titration.