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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Worked Example Problem

Tin oxide is heated with hydrogen gas to form tin metal and water vapor. Write the balanced equation that describes this reaction.


  1. Write the unbalanced equation.
    SnO2 + H2 → Sn + H2O
Refer to Table of Common Polyatomic Ions and Formulas of Ionic Compounds if you have trouble writing the chemical formulas of the products and reactants.


Balance the equation.

Look at the equation and see which elements are not balanced. In this case, there are two oxygen atoms on the lefthand side of the equation and only one on the righthand side. Correct this by putting a coefficient of 2 in front of water:
SnO2 + H2 → Sn + 2 H2O

This puts the hydrogen atoms out of balance. Now there are two hydrogen atoms on the left and four hydrogen atoms on the right. To get four hydrogen atoms on the right, add a coefficient of 2 for the hydrogen gas. Remember, coefficients are multipliers, so if we write 2 H2O it denotes 2x2=4 hydrogen atoms and 2x1=2 oxygen atoms.
SnO2 + 2 H2 → Sn + 2 H2O

The equation is now balanced. Be sure to double-check your math! Each side of the equation has 1 atom of Sn, 2 atoms of O, and 4 atoms of H.

Indicate the physical states of the reactants and products.


To do this, you need to be familiar with the properties of various compounds or you need to be told what the phases are for the chemicals in the reaction. Oxides are solids, hydrogen forms a diatomic gas, tin is a solid, and the term 'water vapor' indicates that water is in the gas phase:
SnO2(s) + 2 H2(g) → Sn(s) + 2 H2O(g)
This is the balanced equation for the reaction. Would you like to see another example of balancing equations?

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