Supersaturated Solution: Definition & Example

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  • 0:03 Solution Basics
  • 0:39 What Is a…
  • 1:25 Making a…
  • 1:59 Example: Hand Warmer
  • 2:39 Example: Rock Candy
  • 3:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson, we'll be learning about supersaturated solutions. Here, you'll learn what a supersaturated solution is and how it is made. Then we'll look at some examples.

Solution Basics

Chances are that you're quite familiar with solutions already. Have you ever made lemonade, or maybe Kool-aid or hot chocolate? All of these sweet drinks are examples of solutions.

In chemistry, a solution is a mixture of a solute and a solvent. The solute is the substance that is getting dissolved and present in a smaller quantity. The solvent is the substance present in a greater quantity.

So for example, in your lemonade the water is the solvent because it is present in a greater quantity, and the lemon juice and sugar are the solutes, which get dissolved in the solvent.

What Is a Supersaturated Solution?

However, each solution can only hold so much solute. If a solution has the maximum amount of solute that can be dissolved, it is said to be saturated. Adding any more solute would cause it to simply fall out of solution. Have you ever tried to add extra sugar to your cold lemonade? It probably just fell to the bottom of the container and did not dissolve. That is because your lemonade was already saturated.

But, surely there must be a way to get that extra in there. Luckily for you, chemists know how to make a supersaturated solution, a solution that holds more solute than it normally could in its saturated form.

Supersaturated solutions are very unstable, and the solute will readily fall out of solution if disturbed. As it does this, crystals can form, releasing heat in the process.

Making a Supersaturated Solution

If getting extra sugar into your lemonade sounds like a good idea, you might be wondering how we make supersaturated solutions. To start, the solution needs to be heated. This allows the molecules in the solution to move faster and further apart, making more room for extra solute, which is then be added.

The solution is left undisturbed to cool. Even though the molecules slow down and move closer together, the solute remains dissolved in solution, creating a supersaturated solution.

Supersaturated solutions can be quite useful beyond just making super sweet lemonade. Let's look at some examples.

Example: Hand Warmer

If you've ever gone to a cold climate, you might be familiar with the small, liquid-filled hand warmers you can buy at the store for your gloves or socks. The liquid contains a small piece of metal that acts like a seed. When you bend the metal you disturb the supersaturated solution of a chemical called sodium acetate. The disturbance causes the sodium acetate to crystallize in the hand warmer.

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