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What is Suspension in Science? - Definition, Types & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition of…
  • 2:05 Physical Appearance of…
  • 3:05 Emulsions
  • 4:35 Examples of Suspensions
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Have you ever seen dust particles floating in a stream of sunlight? The dust you see in the air is an example of suspension. Discover this fascinating mixture, explore a special type of suspension, and see examples in this lesson.

Suspension in Science: Definition

If you have had the opportunity to go to the beach, you have probably felt grainy sand between your toes while in the water. If you take a scoop of sandy water, place it in a bottle, and try to shake it, what do you suppose will happen? Rather than dissolving in the water, the sand will float around and eventually settle to the bottom. This interaction between sand and water perfectly explains what a suspension is.

Suspension is a type of heterogeneous mixture where solid particles do not dissolve in a liquid solution. No matter how hard you shake or stir, think of suspended particles as stubborn substances unwilling to dissolve in a solution.

Let's step back for a minute and discuss the term mixture. In science, mixtures can fall under two broad categories: homogeneous and heterogeneous. Keep in mind that mixtures can involve the combination of either liquid, solid, or gas substances. As we go through the different types of mixtures, and relate this to suspensions, you can use this flowchart as a guide.

Diagram 1: Flow Chart of Chemical Mixtures And Examples
flow chart

Homogeneous mixtures occur when individual substances are uniformly distributed in a given mixture. As shown in diagram 2, soapy water is a great example. When you add soap to water and shake it up to mix, a uniform, bubbly solution forms. Two individual substances (water and dish soap) evenly distribute and do not separate in this homogeneous solution.

Diagram 2: Homogenous Mixture Illustration Using Soapy Water As An Example
soapy water

Heterogeneous mixtures occur when there is non-uniformity with the substances present in a given mixture. In other words, heterogeneous mixtures contain different substances that physically remain separated from one another. Remember the sand and water example mentioned earlier? Well, this suspension is a great example of a heterogeneous mixture (diagram 2). You can visibly notice two substances (water and sand), non-uniform and physically remaining separated, in the sandy water.

Diagram 2: Heterogeneous Mixture Illustration Using Sandy Water As An Example
sandy water

The Physical Appearance of Suspensions

How can you visually tell that a solution is suspended? One way to tell is by looking at the physical characteristics. Homogeneous solutions (like water, milk) are uniform in color, meaning you will not see particles floating in the liquid. Suspensions (heterogeneous solutions) are non-uniform in color and will sometimes look cloudy or murky, like muddy water. You will definitely see particles floating around in a suspended solution.

Try this at home. You can make a mixture of whatever liquid and solid you would like, then let it sit for a few days. If you see particles settled at the bottom of the solution, you will know a suspension solution is staring you in the face. If you see zero particles then you can be quite confident in delivering the verdict that this is a solution, a homogeneous solution to be, 'chemically correct.'

Special Type of Suspension: Emulsions

Going back to our flow chart in diagram 1, emulsions are categorized under suspensions. You may be wondering, what is an emulsion and what does this have to do with suspensions? Well, let's discuss what emulsions are and then use that information to explore why emulsions are a special type of suspension.

Emulsion is a solution consisting of a mixture of two liquids that are immiscible with one another. Immiscible refers to two substances not able to be mixed together. When you shake and stir a solution containing two immiscible liquids, eventually the mixed solution will settle, producing two different liquid layers.

Recall that, with a suspension, solid particles will not dissolve in a liquid solution. This concept of remaining physically separate, or not dissolving in solution, also occurs with emulsions. The only difference is that with emulsions the starting substances used for mixing are not the same. Emulsions use liquids only. Suspensions use a solid and liquid.

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