Hire Tom
Mostly Mozart


Posted September 16, 2001

We interrupt our commentary on this week's events to bring you...

You're listening to Mostly Mozart on Kootenay Coop Radio, CJLY 93.5 fm in Nelson. Mostly Mozart is sponsored by Comfort and Joy, a unique children's store. My name is Tom Clegg, and I will be deciding what music you get to listen to for the next hour. And you will be relieved to hear that today I am not going to say anything at all about what can only be called... horses.

In fact, since the show is called Mostly Mozart, I think it's only fitting that I won't be saying anything even remotely interesting until I've played a little Mozart. This piece is not Mozart's unfinished Requiem.


You're listening to Mostly Mozart on Kootenay Coop Radio. Comfort and Joy is happy to sponsor Mostly Mozart. Especially because I'm going to talk about solutions today.

Someone called Rich left a note in my mail chube, asking what can dissolve carbon. That's a difficult question, first of all because carbon doesn't usually refer to a substance. There are lots of substances which contain carbon, including coal, tar, diamonds, gasoline, air, hair, sugar, and wood. But it's hard to guess which one you mean if you just say you have some carbon.

Well, even if I don't know what Rich meant by carbon, perhaps I can figure out what he meant by "dissolve." At first I thought he wanted to break carbon atoms up into their constituent parts, which is possible but requires the use of some kind of nuclear reactor. It happens in the Sun, and in nuclear bombs, but it's dangerous to observe the results too closely in both cases. And "dissolve" wouldn't really be the right word. "Dissolve" suggests the formation of solution by a chemical reaction, not the formation of a big radioactive mess.

For example, you can dissolve salt in water. This is not only easy to do, it is also quite safe. You have my permission to try it at home. Ordinary table salt is sodium chloride, molecular formula NaCl. The Na is the sodium, with a positive charge of 1, and the Cl is the chlorine, with a negative charge of 1. When they're together, the net charge is 0.

Each molecule of water is H2O: two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. At any given moment, you'll find that several of the water molecules have ionized, or split up into OH(-) and H(+) ions. Some of the negative ions find their corresponding positive ions and form proper water molecules again; meanwhile, other water molecules are splitting into ions.

So if you put a sodium chloride molecule in water, you've got four different molecules. There's H2O and there's NaCl; and there's OH(-) and H(+). If some of those water ions happen to be in the right place, they'll pull the sodium and chlorine atoms away from each other and break up the salt molecule. So instead of an H2O and an NaCl, you get an HCl, hydrogen chloride, and an NaOH, sodium hydroxide.

That's a typical chemical reaction: you start with salt, and you end up with no salt. You've still got the same number of atoms you started with, and the same elements you started with, but you have different molecules.

Some of the sodium and chlorine atoms will stay together as salt molecules, while others become sodium hydroxide and hydrogen chloride. They'll go back and forth between those two states, but the mixture as a whole will reach an equilibrium, where the concentration of each type of molecule is roughly constant.

So, how to dissolve carbon depends on what form the carbon comes in. If you've got a bunch of free carbon atoms, you can combine them with oxygen gas and get carbon dioxide.

If you have some calcium carbonate -- which you might find at hot springs, or in marble, chalk, or clam shells -- you can dissolve that in acid, that is, a liquid with more H(+) ions than OH(-) ions. You end up with calcium ions and carbonic acid. Carbonic acid molecules tend to break up into one water molecule plus one carbon dioxide molecule.

Oh darn, we just ended up with carbon dioxide again. I was hoping for something different.

But there are an awful lot of reactions that release carbon dioxide. So many that since people started getting good at chemistry, there has been more and more carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere. There is more there now than there ever has been, as far as anyone knows. One thing we know for sure is that the Earth's atmosphere is a very convenient mixture of gases from the perspective of people, plants, and animals, and that we would all be dead within 10 minutes if we didn't have it. One thing we haven't the faintest clue about is what happens when the mixture changes substantially. We seem to be pretty eager to find out though, because we're making tons more carbon dioxide every day. Of course, we won't find out anyway. Whether or not everything dies, we won't know what role carbon dioxide played, because we're messing with so many other variables at the same time.

I'd really like to go on about how depressing it is that we're destroying the Earth's ability to sustain life. But it occurs to me that I left some sodium hydroxide and hydrogen chloride molecules in equilibrium in a jar of water. And I think the sodium and chlorine atoms might be getting lonely. I'm just going to stir it up a little, and maybe I can break up some other salt molecules and give those sodium and chlorine a chance to get back together.


This is CJLY 93.5 fm in Nelson. Mostly Mozart is sponsored by Comfort and Joy, a unique children's store. You just heard Sodium Chloride, from a Kate and Anna McGarrigle CD. This next selection was written by someone called Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.


You're listening to Mostly Mozart on Kootenay Coop Radio. Comfort and Joy is happy to sponsor Mostly Mozart. It's that time again, the show is almost over. I will be back next week at the same time, and if you're not listening right now but you meant to, this show will be repeated on Thursday at 2:00. I'll leave you today with yet another song that was not written by Mozart.