Chem Club Hosts First Titration Tournament

October 29, 2010

Chemistry Professor Lon Porter - The Titration “Sudden Death” Tournament is a new annual event hosted by the Chemistry Club each fall. It puts a uniquely competitive, Wabash spin on one of the central analytical techniques explored by students in their chemistry laboratory classes.

This technique is known as the acid-base titration. While titration analysis was first performed in 18th century France, it was not until the mid- to late-1800’s (when atomic weights and stoichiometry were more firmly understood) that titration became a standard method of chemical analysis. Titration still plays a very prominent role in modern analytical chemistry and is one of the more memorable Wabash chemistry lab traditions.

See photo here and here.

In Thursday's exciting event, students were nominated by each campus living unit to compete in titration duels, where accuracy under pressure is put to the test. Two students face off in each round and are given samples of acidic compounds dissolved in water, however the concentration of these substances is not revealed to the contestants. When the duel begins, students use a buret (a long, graduated glass tube with a precision tap for liquid delivery) to carefully add an alkaline solution of known concentration until they observe a very faint color change (colorless to faint pink) due to the presence of an acid/base indicator. This color change typically indicates that the added base has neutralized the acid in their sample.

One challenging aspect is that students must cautiously judge the extent of this color change to help them determine exactly when to halt the titration. Using simple arithmetic, the amount of acid in their unknown sample is determined by the amount of known base added. In these duels, students compete to beat their opponent by completing this activity as accurately as possible in the shortest amount of time. Don’t forget that these competitors must also work to maintain focus through blaring stadium rock theme music, cheering of their housemates, and heckling from their opponent’s supporters!
This year, 12 students were nominated to compete. The first rounds of the tourney were hilarious fun with unbelievable "motivation" by the crowd; the semifinals sported amazing nail-biters with great quality of analysis! The championship was closer than we ever imagined ... all coming down to a contested endpoint and one UV-vis spectrophotometer reading that tipped the scales at the very last moment.
It was a spectacular evening for titration and one of the best Chemistry Club events I have ever seen! 
Your Fall 2010 titration champions are: 1st: Bill Birch, 2nd: Cody Leatherman, 3rd: James Gorman.

In photos: Upper right, Porter working with students. Lower left, Champion Birch


Wabash College • P.O. Box 352 • Crawfordsville, IN 47933 • 765.361.6100