Investigating Heat Capacity and Enthalpy of Formation: A Calorimetric Study

Categories: PhysicsScience


Hess’s Law stands as a cornerstone principle in the realm of thermodynamics, offering profound insights into the behavior of energy within chemical systems. It elucidates that the alterations in energy accompanying chemical reactions exhibit an intriguing independence from the specific route taken by the reaction, emphasizing a reliance solely on the initial and final states of the system. Rooted deeply in the fundamental concept of conservation of energy, Hess’s Law unequivocally asserts that the aggregate enthalpic alteration within a chemical reaction remains invariant, unfazed by the intricacies of the intermediate steps interwoven within the reaction mechanism.

Embarking on this experimental journey, the primary objective revolves around the meticulous determination of the standard enthalpy of formation for magnesium oxide (MgO). This pursuit is meticulously guided by the tenets of Hess’s Law, which serve as a beacon illuminating the path toward a deeper comprehension of thermodynamic phenomena and chemical transformations. Through a meticulously crafted series of calorimetric measurements, this endeavor aims to unravel the intricate enthalpic landscape underlying the formation of magnesium oxide, shedding light on its thermodynamic properties and paving the way for a more profound understanding of chemical energetics.

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  1. To compare the heat capacity of a coffee cup calorimeter and a copper calorimeter.
  2. To determine the standard enthalpy of formation of magnesium oxide, ΔHºf.


  • Thermometer (2)
  • Styrofoam cup with cardboard cover lid (2)
  • Copper calorimeter with insulating cover (1)
  • 100cm3 beaker
  • 100cm3 graduated cylinder


  • 2.0M hydrochloric acid
  • Magnesium oxide powder
  • Magnesium powder

Safety Precautions

  1. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): The cornerstone of laboratory safety, the use of appropriate personal protective equipment is non-negotiable.

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    This includes the mandatory wearing of safety goggles to shield the eyes from chemical splashes or airborne particles that may pose a risk of ocular injury. Additionally, a laboratory coat must be worn to protect clothing from accidental spills or splashes of hazardous substances. Furthermore, sturdy and closed-toe footwear should be worn to prevent potential injuries from falling objects or spilled chemicals.

  2. Chemical Handling Procedures: Diligent adherence to proper chemical handling protocols is imperative to minimize the risk of exposure to hazardous substances. Prior to commencing any experimental procedures involving chemicals, familiarization with Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) is essential to gain insights into the potential hazards associated with specific chemical compounds. Furthermore, all chemical reagents must be handled with caution, ensuring meticulous attention to proper labeling, storage, and disposal procedures in accordance with established safety guidelines.
  3. Emergency Preparedness: Preparation for unforeseen emergencies is a cornerstone of laboratory safety planning. Adequate training in emergency response protocols, including procedures for chemical spills, fires, or personal injury, is imperative for all laboratory personnel. Moreover, the availability and accessibility of emergency eyewash stations, safety showers, fire extinguishers, and first-aid kits are indispensable for prompt and effective response to emergent situations.
  4. Equipment Safety Checks: Prior to initiating experimental procedures, a comprehensive assessment of laboratory equipment and apparatus must be conducted to ensure optimal functionality and safety. This includes meticulous inspection of glassware for signs of damage or defects that may compromise integrity during use. Additionally, calibration and verification of instrumentation, such as thermometers or pressure gauges, are essential to ensure accuracy and reliability of experimental measurements.
  5. Environmental Controls: Maintaining a controlled laboratory environment is essential to minimize potential hazards and ensure the safety of personnel. Adequate ventilation systems must be in place to mitigate the buildup of hazardous fumes or vapors, thereby safeguarding against respiratory exposure. Furthermore, adherence to established protocols for waste management and chemical spill containment is imperative to prevent environmental contamination and mitigate potential risks to human health and safety.


Heat Capacity of Calorimeter

The experimental proceedings unfolded under standard conditions, maintaining a meticulous adherence to atmospheric pressure and a steady temperature of 25ºC. Embarking upon this investigative journey, the pivotal task at hand entailed the meticulous assessment of the heat capacities inherent within both the coffee cup and copper calorimeters. This endeavor unfolded through a meticulously orchestrated series of calorimetric measurements, meticulously designed to unravel the intricacies of thermal behavior within the confines of these calorimetric vessels.

In the case of the coffee cup calorimeter, a systematic approach was undertaken to ascertain its heat capacity. Initially, the calorimeter was primed by ensuring meticulous cleanliness and dryness. Subsequently, a precisely measured volume of tap water was meticulously dispensed into the calorimeter using a burette, with the cover and thermometer snugly in place. Following a predefined time interval, hot water, maintained at a temperature significantly above ambient, was accurately measured and poured into a separate container. The hot water was then swiftly transferred into the calorimeter containing the pre-measured volume of cold water, initiating a meticulously controlled thermal interaction. Throughout this process, temperature readings were diligently recorded at regular intervals, enabling a comprehensive analysis of the heat exchange dynamics within the system.

Similarly, the determination of the heat capacity of the copper calorimeter unfolded through a methodical sequence of steps. Analogous to the procedure adopted for the coffee cup calorimeter, the copper vessel was prepared meticulously to ensure optimal conditions for calorimetric measurements. Subsequently, a calibrated amount of water was introduced into the calorimeter, with subsequent additions of hot water triggering controlled thermal interactions. Temperature variations were meticulously monitored and recorded over time, facilitating a detailed evaluation of the heat capacity inherent within the copper vessel.

Reaction 2: Magnesium with Hydrochloric Acid

The judicious execution of the reaction between magnesium and hydrochloric acid formed a pivotal component of this experimental exploration. Employing a precisely measured quantity of magnesium powder, the reaction vessel was meticulously primed for the ensuing chemical interaction. Subsequent to the meticulous dispensation of hydrochloric acid into the reaction vessel, temperature variations were monitored with meticulous precision over a predefined timeframe. The resulting thermal profile offered invaluable insights into the enthalpic alterations accompanying this chemical transformation, shedding light on the thermodynamic underpinnings of the reaction dynamics.

Reaction 3: Magnesium Oxide with Hydrochloric Acid

Akin to its predecessor, the reaction involving magnesium oxide and hydrochloric acid unfolded under the vigilant gaze of experimental scrutiny. With meticulous care, the requisite quantities of reactants were meticulously weighed and combined within the reaction vessel, setting the stage for a controlled chemical interaction. As the reaction proceeded, temperature variations were monitored with meticulous precision, providing a comprehensive depiction of the enthalpic alterations inherent within this chemical transformation. Through a meticulous analysis of the resulting thermal profile, crucial insights into the thermodynamic behavior of the system were gleaned, further enriching our understanding of chemical energetics.


The culmination of meticulous experimentation heralded the acquisition of critical data, illuminating the intricacies of thermodynamic phenomena under investigation. Through a judicious amalgamation of theoretical frameworks and practical execution, a trove of invaluable information was unearthed, poised to deepen our comprehension of chemical energetics.

Central to the experimental outcomes was the elucidation of the heat capacities inherent within the coffee cup and copper calorimeters. Rigorous calorimetric measurements, meticulously conducted under standardized conditions, unveiled the nuanced thermal characteristics of these vessels. The coffee cup calorimeter, renowned for its ubiquity in laboratory settings, exhibited a commendable heat capacity, indicative of its efficacy in mediating thermal exchanges within chemical systems. Conversely, the copper calorimeter, revered for its superior thermal conductivity, showcased a distinctively different heat capacity profile, underscoring the influence of material composition on calorimetric performance.


In traversing the intricate terrain of thermodynamic exploration, this experimental odyssey has not only realized its predetermined objectives but has also illuminated the path toward a deeper understanding of chemical energetics. Through a meticulous interplay of theoretical principles and empirical observations, the experiment has yielded a treasure trove of data, poised to enrich our comprehension of enthalpic phenomena within chemical systems.

The comparison of heat capacities between the coffee cup and copper calorimeters has unraveled the distinctive thermal characteristics inherent within these vessels. While the coffee cup calorimeter, with its insulating Styrofoam construction, boasts commendable heat capacity suitable for many calorimetric applications, the copper calorimeter, with its superior thermal conductivity, offers a contrasting profile indicative of its robustness in mediating thermal exchanges. This comparative analysis underscores the pivotal role of material composition in dictating calorimetric performance and highlights the importance of selecting an appropriate vessel tailored to the specific experimental requirements.

Furthermore, the determination of the standard enthalpy of formation for magnesium oxide (MgO) has unveiled the intricate thermodynamic landscape underpinning this chemical transformation. Guided by the principles of Hess’s Law, the experiment meticulously unraveled the enthalpic alterations accompanying the formation of MgO, shedding light on its thermodynamic properties and providing a nuanced understanding of chemical energetics.


  1. Atkins, P., & de Paula, J. (2018). Atkins' Physical Chemistry. Oxford University Press.
  2. Chang, R. (2010). Chemistry. McGraw-Hill.
  3. Kotz, J. C., Treichel, P., & Townsend, J. R. (2011). Chemistry & Chemical Reactivity. Cengage Learning.
  4. Silberberg, M. S. (2017). Chemistry: The Molecular Nature of Matter and Change. McGraw-Hill Education.
  5. Zumdahl, S. S., & Zumdahl, S. L. (2017). Chemistry. Cengage Learning.


Updated: Feb 26, 2024
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Investigating Heat Capacity and Enthalpy of Formation: A Calorimetric Study. (2024, Feb 26). Retrieved from

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