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Base in Chemistry: Definition & Example

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  • 0:00 What Is A Base?
  • 0:45 Properties And…
  • 1:10 Bases In Action
  • 3:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sheila Morrissey

Sheila has a master's degree in geology and has taught middle school through university-level science courses.

After this lesson, you will be able to define and describe bases, and explain how they differ from acids. You will learn about real-life examples of bases in action in our bodies and in the environment.

What is a Base?

As seen on the pH scale, bases describe solutions with a pH greater than seven, and there is a range of how basic a solution can be. A base is the opposite of an acid. The 'H' in 'pH' stands for hydrogen. The origin of the 'p' in 'pH' is somewhat debatable, but we can think of pH as the power of hydrogen or the potential of hydrogen. pH is defined as -log(H+), or the -log of the activity of hydrogen.

Bases differ from acids in their potential for accepting rather than releasing hydrogen ions. The more free hydrogen a solution has, the more acidic it is and the lower its pH value. Solutions with a high pH value, such as drain cleaner, are very basic and thus have a high potential for accepting hydrogen ions.

Properties and Examples of Bases

Bases tend to taste bitter and feel slippery. At home, we use bases as cleaning agents and as antacid medications. Common examples of bases found at home include soaps; lye, which is found in oven cleaners, for example; milk of magnesia; and Tums. Each has a pH value greater than seven, has the potential for accepting free hydrogen, and can neutralize acids.

Bases in Action

Because bases are the opposite of acids, with acids releasing free hydrogen ions in aqueous solution and bases having the potential to accept those hydrogen ions, bases can be used to neutralize acids.

The calcium carbonate found in Tums works to neutralize stomach acid by dissolving into aqueous calcium and carbonate ions. Acidity-causing, positively-charged free hydrogen ions attach to the ions, forming bicarbonate. The concentration of positively-charged free hydrogen ions is reduced, thereby reducing the acidity and raising the pH level in your stomach.

A similar acid-neutralizing series of reactions is happening on a much larger scale in our oceans. As air comes into contact with the surface of the ocean, gases in the air get dissolved into the ocean water. One of these gases, carbon dioxide, is a naturally-occurring component of air that also has a continually increasing, human-caused component.

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