Tag Archives: pKa

Bases, Acid Base Reactions and Equilibriums

So we’ve heard of Ka/pKa, the acid dissociation constant – but what is there for bases? There is such a thing as a base dissociation constant Kb but more commonly the reverse of Ka is used.

A base would normally be indicated by a high pKa – meaning there is very little dissociated H+. Kb is simply the opposite as shown below.

Base Dissociation Constant

Base Dissociation Constant

So if we were to look at Ammonia (NH3):

Kb for Ammonia

Kb for Ammonia (NH3)

But…seeing as we aren’t using Kb/pKb we simply need to rearrange our base dissociation formula to fit into Ka/pKa:

Ka of Ammonia (NH3)

Ka of Ammonia (NH3)

From this you may notice it’s the other way round for the Ka for acids, as there the top line holds the base NH3 while in acids the acid is found on the bottom line (eg HCl).

Acid Base Reactions – and Equilibrium

Acid base reactions have an equilibrium, and to calculate it we simply combine the Ka of the acids with the Ka of the bases.

Consider the reaction between HCl and NaOH, producing NaCl and H2O. Their Ka equations would be as follows:…

Acids and Bases – pKa, Equilibrium Constant and logs

The best place to start is at acids – and as we know acids can give up a proton to become deprotonated.

Acid and Conjugate Base

Acid and Conjugate Base (& charges)

The acid will dissociate into a proton (H+) and cunjugate base (A-). Note that this is in equilibrium – there is a mixture of both sides of the equation present. The constant for this equilibium (the acid dissociation constant, Ka) tells us the position of the equilibrium. Ka is the concentration of the products over the concentration of the reagents:

Ka = Products Concentrations / Reagent Concentrations

Ka = Products Concentrations / Reagent Concentrations

therefore, for Hydrochloric Acid (HCl):

Acid Dissociation Constant for HCl

Acid Dissociation Constant for HCl

Simple, huh? What Ka tells us is a numeric value for the strength of an acid in solution. The larger the value, the smaller the extent of dissociation.

To illustrate, a strong acid like HCl has a Ka value of 1×10^7, which clearly shows a large bias towards products. Acetic acid on the other hand has a Ka value of 1.7×10^-5 – which strongly favours reagents.

So, what’s all this ‘log’ stuff?

We use logs to convert long numbers into a user friendly scale – as the numbers we often get are on a huge scale (see HCl and Acetic Acid above). To do this we put p into our acid dissociation constant Ka.

pKa & Log of the Concentrations

pKa & Log of the Concentrations

Simply, p = – log, so the result is the logarithm of negative Ka.

Going back to HCl & Acetic Acid:

HCl Ka = 1×10^7; – log Ka = -7, therefore pKa = -7.

Acetic Acid Ka = 1.7×10^-5; – log Ka = -4.76, therefore pKa = 4.76.

So stronger acids have lower pKa‘s (or have higher Ka‘s).

We can easily convert back into Ka:

Converting between pKa and Ka

Converting between pKa and Ka

pH and pKa

If the pH of a solution = the pKa, then the acid is in equilibrium – it is half dissociated. This scale goes either way – if pH is less than pKa then it’s mainly protonated acid; if pH is more than pKa it’s mainly deprotonated.

pH and pKa - Equilibrium & Protonation

pH and pKa - Equilibrium & Protonation

In the next post I’ll look at the equilibrium constant for bases & for acid base reactions.