Monday, October 29, 2012



The principle behind recrystallization is that the amount of solute that can be dissolved by a solvent increases with temperature. In recrystallization, a solution is created by dissolving a solute in a solvent at or near its boiling point. At this high temperature, the solute has a greatly increased solubility in the solvent, so a much smaller quantity of hot solvent is needed than when the solvent is at room temperature. When the solution is later cooled, after filtering out insoluble impurities, the amount of solute that remains dissolved drops precipitously. At the cooler temperature, the solution is saturated at a much lower concentration of solute. The solute that can no longer be held in solution forms purified crystals of solute, which can later be collected.

Recrystallization works only when the proper solvent is used. The solute must be relatively insoluble in the solvent at room temperature but much more soluble in the solvent at higher temperature. At the same time, impurities that are present must either be soluble in the solvent at room temperature or insoluble in the solvent at a high temperature. For example, if you wanted to purify a sample of Compound X which is contaminated by a small amount of Compound Y, an appropriate solvent would be one in which all of Compound Y dissolved at room temperature because the impurities will stay in solution and pass through filter paper, leaving only pure crystals behind. Also appropriate would be a solvent in which the impurities are insoluble at a high temperature because they will remain solid in the boiling solvent and can then be filtered out. When dealing with unknowns, you will need to test which solvent will work best for you. According to the adage "Like dissolves like," a solvent that has a similar polarity to the solute being dissolved will usually dissolve the substance very well. In general, a very polar solute will easily be dissolved in a polar solvent and will be fairly insoluble in a non-polar solvent. Frequently, having a solvent with slightly different polarity characteristics than the solute is best because if the polarity of the two is too closely matched, the solute will likely be at least partially dissolved at room temperature.


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