Using Aliquots in Chemistry: Definition & Function

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  • 0:03 Definition of Aliquots
  • 1:41 Role & Function of Aliquots
  • 3:23 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

Did you know a sub-sample is another way to describe an aliquot? In this lesson, we will learn more about aliquots, why they are sub-samples, and their function in chemistry.

Definition of Aliquots

Imagine for a minute that it's a blistering hot day outside. You are hosting a barbecue party; all of your entrees are a hit. Your homemade lemonade is the biggest hit of them all. Creating one big glass pitcher of lemonade, you decide to pour out two different glasses and hand them to your guests. Can you think of a scientific term to describe these smaller glasses of lemonade? Correct, in chemistry, they can be referred to as aliquots.

An aliquot is a type of sub-sample that is taken or extracted from an original sample. If we think of fractions, we can compare aliquots to the concept of part and whole. That is, an aliquot is the fractional part of an entire whole sample. For example, let's say we have a 20ml solution of salt water (NaCl) and decide that we only want to work smaller 5ml samples. What would we call these smaller volume samples? The 5ml samples would be our aliquots as they are the part to the whole, or 25ml total NaCl solution.

Given what we have learned about part to whole, why do you suppose those two glasses of lemonade can be classified as aliquot samples? Well, the pitcher of lemonade (i.e., the whole) is separated out into two different parts as it is poured into two glasses. Both of these parts are sub-samples, or aliquots.

Generally, aliquots are associated with liquid-based solutions. Also, these solutions are homogeneous. Homogeneous refers to liquid solutions that have both a uniform composition of material and appearance.

Role & Function of Aliquots

Besides functioning as a technique used to separate a larger sample into smaller parts, aliquoting plays a very important role in the temperature sensitivity of substances. For example, in chemistry, some substances can rapidly decompose (or deteriorate) when exposed repeatedly to variable temperature environments. This decomposition can affect the potency (or strength) of your sample, thereby impacting its effectiveness and usefulness in laboratory experiments.

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