Creating Mixtures by Combining Elements & Compounds

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  • 0:01 Mixtures Are Common
  • 1:17 Mixtures Are Physical…
  • 3:23 Two Kinds of Mixtures
  • 4:36 Single and Multiple…
  • 5:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Do you really know what's in your tap water? It's not just water - it's a mixture of many different things. In fact, most things are mixtures of different elements and compounds that are physically joined together.

I had a really great dinner last night. There's a fantastic pizza place in town that gives you slices as big as your head. They also make awesome salads and have a super-secret recipe for their killer macaroni and cheese. We were pretty hungry, so we got a large veggie pizza, a Greek salad, and of course, an order of that mac and cheese.

When all of the food arrived and was set down on the table, it made me realize that each of the menu items was a mixture. A mixture is a combination of two or more substances that each retain their own properties. The pizza is a mixture of veggies, cheese, and sauce; the salad is a mixture of lettuce, tomatoes, olives, onions, and cheese; and the mac and cheese has noodles, cheese, and breadcrumbs in it.

When the items in each dish are mixed together, they don't change. The cheese on the pizza is still cheese, just like the mushrooms are still mushrooms, the onions are still onions, and the sauce is still sauce.

In fact, most materials are mixtures. Tap water is a mixture that is mostly water, but it also contains other things, like calcium, magnesium, and chlorine. Air is a mixture because it also contains many different things, such as oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon.

Mixtures Are Physical Combinations

Mixtures come about when elements and compounds combine through physical means. An element is a material that is made of only one atom, such as an atom of gold, helium, or mercury. Sometimes, elements chemically combine to form a compound, which is a group of two or more different atoms chemically bonded together. These are things like salt, which is sodium and chlorine, and methane, which is carbon and hydrogen.

While both compounds and mixtures are combinations, the main difference is that mixtures can be separated by physical means. In fact, you could separate a mixture of different compounds into its separate compound components, but you would have to chemically separate the compounds themselves. This is because they are chemically bonded together and don't necessarily retain their properties like the parts of mixtures do.

So, how do we physically separate a mixture? Well, with your pizza, you could just pick out certain ingredients with your fingers. But this isn't always a practical approach. Imagine trying to hand pick salt crystals out of a glass of saltwater - not so easy!

Instead, we can use a method like filtration. This method separates solids from fluids, which is how you might make coffee in the morning. You pour hot water over coffee grounds, and that water (along with the caffeine and flavor) flows through the filter but leaves the solid grounds behind.

For saltwater, you might prefer to use something like distillation. This method collects a separated, vaporized substance and is a very effective way to separate fresh water from saltwater. With distillation, the fluid is boiled and then collected as it turns to vapor. The other components of the mixture (like the salt in the water) are left behind, and your mixture is now separated!

If you've ever forgotten about a pot of boiling water on the stove, you likely came back to a pot with no water that was instead covered in white 'stuff.' You probably didn't know it, but you had separated the water from its other components through distillation. You just didn't collect the water vapor as it boiled off.

Two Kinds of Mixtures

You may have noticed by now that not all mixtures are the same. A salad is a mixture, but so is saltwater. The difference between these two is that with the salad you can see the individual parts of the mixture, whereas with the saltwater, you can't.

This is an important distinction that helps us identify the type of mixture we have. The salad is a heterogeneous mixture, which means that the different parts can be identified as individual substances. This makes sense because the prefix 'hetero' means 'different.' Your pizza is also a heterogeneous mixture, as is orange juice with pulp, vegetable soup, and a bag of trail mix.

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