AQA A Level Chemistry

Revision Notes

6.3.1 Metal-Aqua Ions

Metal Aqua-Ions

  • Transition metal salts that are readily soluble in water are forming metal-aqua complex ions when they dissolve in water
  • When we show copper sulfate dissolving in water it is usually written as:

CuSO4 (s) + aq  → Cu2+ (aq)   + SO42- (aq)

  • However, what we really mean by this is that copper(II) ions are forming the hexaaqucopper(II) ion

CuSO4 (s) + aq  → [Cu(H2O)6] 2+ (aq)   + SO42- (aq)

  • The water molecules are ligands attached to the central transition metal cation by dative covalent bonding from the lone pairs on the oxygen molecules
  • Iron(II) salts also form the hexaaqua complex ions:

Fe(NO3)2 (s) + aq  → [Fe(H2O)6] 2+ (aq)   + 2NO3 (aq)

  • Two common +3 aqua ions you should know are iron(III) and aluminium:

Fe(NO3)3 (s) + aq  → [Fe(H2O)6] 3+ (aq)   + 3NO3 (aq)

Al2(SO4)3 (s) + aq  → 2[Al(H2O)6] 3+ (aq)   + 3SO42- (aq)

Metal Aqua Ions, downloadable AS & A Level Chemistry revision notes

Hexaaqua complex ions of +2 and +3 metal ions

Lewis Acids and Bases

  • In the section of acids and bases we saw the Brønsted-Lowry definition of acids and bases

An acid is a substance which can behave as a proton donor

A base is a substance which can behave as a proton acceptor

  • Gilbert Lewis is better known in the topic of bonding theory as the chemist whose name is given to electron dot structures of atoms, ions and molecules
  • Lewis applied these structures to Brønsted-Lowry theory and realised that acid-base reactions can be interpreted in terms of electron pairs movements rather than in terms of proton transfer
  • For example when ammonia reacts with a proton an electron pair moves from ammonia to the proton:

H+     +     NH3      NH4+




The Lewis diagram shows that the base donates an electron pair to forming a dative covalent bond with the proton

  • This lead to a new definition of acids and bases

A Lewis acid is a species which can bond by accepting a lone pair of electrons

A Lewis base is a species which can bond by donating a lone pair of electrons

  • The bond formed is an example of a co-ordinate or dative covalent bond
  • Following these definitions you should be able to see that in a metal-aqua complex ion:
    • The metal is a Lewis acid
    • The water is a Lewis base


Acidity in Metal-Aqua Ions

  • You might imagine that salts of transition metal ions would be neutral in water
  • However, ions of +3 aqua complexes are noticeably acidic compared to the +2 ions
  • For example the pKa of [Fe(H2O)6] 3+ (aq) is 2.2 which is significantly more acidic than ethanoic acid which has a pKa of 4.8 (remember the lower the pKa the more acidic the species is)
  • The reason for this is that +3 ions are smaller and therefore have a higher charge density than +2 ions

  • The higher charge density pulls the water molecules more strongly, which weakens the O-H bond and results in more dissociation, producing a more acidic solution
  • We say that the metal ion polarises the water molecules










Metal(III) ions have a high charge density and polarise water molecules in the hexaaqua complexes

  • This results in hydrogen ions (protons) splitting from the complexes creating acidic solutions

 [Fe(H2O)63+ (aq)   →    [Fe(H2O)5(OH)] 2+ (aq)  + H+ (aq)

  • Notice that the loss of the proton results in the new pentaaqua complex having a +2 charge
    • Another way to think of this is the left over hydroxide ion from splitting a water molecule is negatively charged and cancels one of the charges on the complex ion
  • The reaction process can also be shown with the hydroxonium ion as the product:

 [Fe(H2O)63+ (aq) + H2O (l)   →    [Fe(H2O)5(OH)] 2+ (aq)  + H3O+ (aq)

  • These reactions are sometime called deprotonation reactions and occur in several steps

[Fe(H2O)63+ (aq)   →    [Fe(H2O)5(OH)] 2+ (aq)  + H+ (aq)

[Fe(H2O)5(OH)] 2+ (aq)   →    [Fe(H2O)4(OH)2] + (aq)  + H+ (aq)

  • However, the third deprotonation does not usually occur without the presence of a base
  • The base facilitates the removal of the third proton and results in the precipitation of the insoluble hydrated iron(III)hydroxide which appears as a foxy red precipitate:

[Fe(H2O)4(OH)2] + (aq)  + OH →    Fe(H2O)3(OH)3 (s)  + H2O (l)

Exam Tip

The splitting of water molecules can be called a hydrolysis reaction


Join Save My Exams

Download all our Revision Notes as PDFs

Try a Free Sample of our revision notes as a printable PDF.

Join Now
Already a member?
Go to Top