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Endothermic and Exothermic Reactions

Enthalpy, Entropy, and Spontaneity

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Photosynthesis is an example of an endothermic reaction.

Photosynthesis is an example of an endothermic reaction.

Frank Krahmer, Getty Images

Many chemical reactions release energy in the form of heat, light, or sound. These are exothermic reactions. Exothermic reactions may occur spontaneously and result in higher randomness or entropy (ΔS > 0) of the system. They are denoted by a negative heat flow (heat is lost to the surroundings) and decrease in enthalpy (ΔH < 0). In the lab, exothermic reactions produce heat or may even be explosive.

There are other chemical reactions that must absorb energy in order to proceed. These are endothermic reactions. Endothermic reactions cannot occur spontaneously. Work must be done in order to get these reactions to occur. When endothermic reactions absorb energy, a temperature drop is measured during the reaction. Endothermic reactions are characterized by positive heat flow (into the reaction) and an increase in enthalpy (+ΔH).

Examples of Endothermic and Exothermic Processes

Photosynthesis is an example of an endothermic chemical reaction. In this process, plants use the energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. This reaction requires 15MJ of energy (sunlight) for every kilogram of glucose that is produced:

sunlight + 6CO2(g) + H2O(l) = C6H12O6(aq) + 6O2(g)

An example of an exothermic reaction is the mixture of sodium and chlorine to yield table salt. This reaction produces 411 kJ of energy for each mole of salt that is produced:

Na(s) + 0.5Cl2(s) = NaCl(s)

Demonstrations You Can Perform

Many exothermic and endothermic reactions involve toxic chemicals, extreme heat or cold, or messy disposal methods. These demonstrations are safe and easy:

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