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The goal of a kinetics experiment is to measure the concentration of a species at a particular time during a reaction so that a rate law can be determined. However, it is exceedingly difficult to get an accurate measurement of a concentration at a known time because the techniques used to measure concentrations don't work instantaneously, but rather take time to perform. One of the earliest methods used to measure concentrations at specified times is to quench the reaction either by flash freezing it or by adding a substance that severely inhibits the reaction. Both of these techniques are problematic because one can't be sure that the reaction has completely stopped. The reaction may still be going on during the analysis. Additionally, the reaction mixture is destroyed for the purposes of kinetic experiments, so the chemist must make multiple trial runs and waste a large amount of reagents to observe the concentrations at multiple points in time.
A more modern technique to measure concentration is absorbance spectroscopy. This experiment may be used when a product or reactant has an absorbance frequency unique to those of other components of the reaction mixture. By measuring the absorbance of a particular product or reactant at a variety of known concentrations, you can construct a plot of absorbance versus concentration called a Beer's Law plot. This calibration chart allows you to calculate the unknown concentration given the reaction solution's absorbance. The advantage of this method is that a large number of data points with well known times can be quickly collected using only one reaction mixture.
When looking at the expression for the , you should notice that the variables in the equation are the concentration terms and the powers p and q:
Because we can measure the concentrations in the rate law using the techniques described above, the unknowns we wish to measure are k, p, and q. One method of directly measuring k, p, and q is called the method of initial rates. By measuring the initial rate (the rate near reaction time zero) for a series of reactions with varying concentrations, we can deduce to what power the rate depends on the concentration of each reagent. For example, let's use the method of initial rates to determine the rate law for the following reaction:
whose rate law has the form:
Using the following initial rates data, it is possible to calculate the order of the reaction for both bromine and acetone:
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