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After this lesson, you will be able to define and describe bases, and explain how they differ from acids. You will learn about real-life examples of bases in action in our bodies and in the environment.

What is a Base?

As seen on the pH scale, bases describe solutions with a pH greater than seven, and there is a range of how basic a solution can be. A base is the opposite of an acid. The ‘H’ in ‘pH’ stands for hydrogen.

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The origin of the ‘p’ in ‘pH’ is somewhat debatable, but we can think of pH as the power of hydrogen or the potential of hydrogen. pH is defined as -log(H+), or the -log of the activity of hydrogen.

Bases differ from acids in their potential for accepting rather than releasing hydrogen ions. The more free hydrogen a solution has, the more acidic it is and the lower its pH value.

Solutions with a high pH value, such as drain cleaner, are very basic and thus have a high potential for accepting hydrogen ions.

Properties and Examples of Bases

Bases tend to taste bitter and feel slippery. At home, we use bases as cleaning agents and as antacid medications. Common examples of bases found at home include soaps; lye, which is found in oven cleaners, for example; milk of magnesia; and Tums. Each has a pH value greater than seven, has the potential for accepting free hydrogen, and can neutralize acids.

Bases in Action

Because bases are the opposite of acids, with acids releasing free hydrogen ions in aqueous solution and bases having the potential to accept those hydrogen ions, bases can be used to neutralize acids.

The calcium carbonate found in Tums works to neutralize stomach acid by dissolving into aqueous calcium and carbonate ions. Acidity-causing, positively-charged free hydrogen ions attach to the ions, forming bicarbonate. The concentration of positively-charged free hydrogen ions is reduced, thereby reducing the acidity and raising the pH level in your stomach.A similar acid-neutralizing series of reactions is happening on a much larger scale in our oceans. As air comes into contact with the surface of the ocean, gases in the air get dissolved into the ocean water.

One of these gases, carbon dioxide, is a naturally-occurring component of air that also has a continually increasing, human-caused component.The increasing carbon dioxide in the air is putting pressure on the ocean’s ability to neutralize acid. As carbon dioxide dissolves into the ocean, it reacts with water to form carbonic acid. This drives a hydrogen ion to dissociate, forming bicarbonate, which can further dissociate a hydrogen ion to form carbonate.

Ideally, adequate carbonate will be available for the formation of calcium carbonate by marine organisms. It’s the same substance found in Tums, and it’s what makes up the shells of much of Earth’s marine life.We learned from our use of calcium carbonate as an antacid medication that it will dissolve to form calcium and carbonate, and the carbonate ions join hydrogen ions to neutralize the acid. This same process happens in the ocean. With increased pressure of carbon dioxide on the ocean, more hydrogen ions are formed, and the pH of the ocean decreases.Currently, the ocean has a pH level approximately 0.

1 pH units lower than the pre-industrial pH. The increased acid brings increased acid neutralization by the basic calcium carbonate found in the ocean but decreases the carbonate availability and causes calcium carbonate shells to dissolve.

Lesson Summary

Bases are substances that, when dissolved in water, have a pH level greater than seven, taste bitter, and feel slippery. They react with acids by accepting H+ ions, giving bases the ability to neutralize acids. Bases are commonly found in cleaning products and antacid medications.

In nature, an important example of a base neutralizing acid occurs in the ocean.

Quick Guide to Base Solutions

Bases have a pH greater than 7
pH scale
Bases
Function Neutralize acids
pH Greater than 7
Hydrogen ions Absorb/accept
Taste Bitter
Touch Slippery
Examples Soaps, lye, milk of magnesia, Tums, calcium carbonate in the ocean

Learning Outcomes

You’ve finished the lesson! Keep reviewing until you feel ready to:

  • Outline the chemical properties of bases
  • List common household uses for bases
  • Describe the role of bases in the ocean

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