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Figure from experiment 19 from Advanced Chemistry with Vernier


A buffer is a mixture of a weak acid and its conjugate base, or a weak base and its conjugate acid. A buffer’s function is to absorb acids (H+ or H3O+ ions) or bases (OH ions) so that the pH of the system changes very, very little.

In many systems, buffers are critical. Blood plasma, a natural example in humans, is a bicarbonate buffer that keeps the pH of blood between 7.2 and 7.6.

By design, a buffer is an equilibrium system. For example, a buffer can be prepared with nitrous acid, HNO2. The weak acid establishes an aqueous equilibrium as shown below.

{\text{HN}}{{\text{O}}_{\text{2}}}{\text{(aq)}} \leftrightarrow {{\text{H}}^{\text{ + }}}{\text{(aq)  +  N}}{{\text{O}}_2}^ - ({\text{aq}})

The equilibrium constant expression is shown below.

{K_a} = \frac{{[{{\text{H}}^ + }][{\text{NO}}_2^ - ]}}  {{[{\text{HN}}{{\text{O}}_2}]}}

To prepare a buffer system with nitrous acid, a conjugate base is added, such as sodium nitrite (NaNO2). The resulting system is a mixture of HNO2 and NO2 ions. The nitrous acid molecule will neutralize hydroxide ions and the nitrite ion from the conjugate will neutralize hydrogen ions.

A variation of the equilibrium expression above, called the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation, is the best reference in preparing a buffer solution. For our nitrous acid/sodium nitrate buffer example, the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation is shown below.

pH = p{K_a} + \log \frac{{[{\text{NO}}_2^ - ]}}  {{[{\text{HN}}{{\text{O}}_2}]}}

The pH range in which a buffer solution is effective is generally considered to be ±1 of the pKa.

In this experiment, you will use the Henderson-Hasselbalch equation to determine the amount of acetic acid and sodium acetate needed to prepare two acidic buffer solutions. You will then prepare the buffers and test their buffer capacities by adding solutions of NaOH and HCl.


In this experiment, you will

  • Prepare and test two acid buffer solutions.
  • Determine the buffer capacity of the prepared buffers.

Sensors and Equipment

This experiment features the following Vernier sensors and equipment.

Option 1

Option 2

Additional Requirements

You may also need an interface and software for data collection. What do I need for data collection?

Standards Correlations

See all standards correlations for Advanced Chemistry with Vernier »

Advanced Chemistry with Vernier

See other experiments from the lab book.

1The Determination of a Chemical Formula
2The Determination of the Percent Water in a Compound
3The Molar Mass of a Volatile Liquid
4Using Freezing-Point Depression to Find Molecular Weight
5The Molar Volume of a Gas
6Standardizing a Solution of Sodium Hydroxide
7Acid-Base Titration
8An Oxidation-Reduction Titration: The Reaction of Fe2+ and Ce4+
9Determining the Mole Ratios in a Chemical Reaction
10The Determination of an Equilibrium Constant
11Investigating Indicators
12The Decomposition of Hydrogen Peroxide
13Determining the Enthalpy of a Chemical Reaction
14ASeparation and Qualitative Analysis of Cations
14BSeparation and Qualitative Analysis of Anions
15AThe Synthesis of Alum
15BThe Analysis of Alum
16Conductimetric Titration and Gravimetric Determination of a Precipitate
17Determining the Concentration of a Solution: Beer's Law
18Liquid Chromatography
20Electrochemistry: Voltaic Cells
22The Synthesis and Analysis of Aspirin
23Determining the Ksp of Calcium Hydroxide
24Determining Ka by the Half-Titration of a Weak Acid
25The Rate and Order of a Chemical Reaction
26The Enthalpy of Neutralization of Phosphoric Acid
27α, β, and γ
28Radiation Shielding
29The Base Hydrolysis of Ethyl Acetate
30Exploring the Properties of Gases
31Determining Avogadro's Number
32Potentiometric Titration of Hydrogen Peroxide
33Determining the Half-Life of an Isotope
34Vapor Pressure and Heat of Vaporization
35Rate Determination and Activation Energy

Experiment 19 from Advanced Chemistry with Vernier Lab Book

<i>Advanced Chemistry with Vernier</i> book cover

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