AQA AS Biology

Revision Notes

1.4.14 Practical Skill: Controlling Variables & Calculating Uncertainty

Practical Skill: Control of Variables & Uncertainty

  • Enzyme rate experiments are experiments that are carried out to determine the effect of changing a particular factor on the rate of a reaction that is catalysed by an enzyme
  • Factors that can be changed include:
    • Temperature
    • pH
    • Enzyme concentration
    • Substrate concentration
  • The key thing with enzyme rate experiments is to ensure that only one of these variables is changed during a particular experiment
    • This is known as the independent variable
  • All other variables must be controlled (they must stay the same)
    • These are known as the control variables
  • For example, if investigating the effect of temperature on the rate of reaction, the pH, enzyme concentration and substrate concentration must be exactly the same (kept constant) each time you run the experiment (at each different temperature you are investigating)
  • If these control variables are not kept constant, they could affect the results of the experiment
    • This would make the results unreliable

Uncertainty

  • Uncertainty is the amount of error your measurements might contain
  • Results from experiments (including enzyme rate experiments) always contain some error (they are never perfect)
  • There will always be a small degree of uncertainty in your readings or measurements
    • This is often because the sensitivity of the apparatus being used is limited
  • For example, you may want to measure reaction rate by measuring how much of a product is made in a given time period (e.g. using a gas syringe to measure the volume of oxygen produced from the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide by catalase)
    • The gas syringe may only give readings to the nearest 1 cm3
    • However, the real volume produced could be up to 0.05 cm3 smaller or larger
    • It has an uncertainty value of ± 0.05 cm3
    • A ‘±’ sign tells you the range in which the true value lies
    • This range is called the margin of error
  • For enzyme rate experiments, you may need to calculate the percentage error of your measurements
    • As long as you know the uncertainty value of your measurements, the percentage error can be calculated using the following formula:

percentage error = (uncertainty value ÷ your measurement) x 100

Worked Example

In an enzyme rate reaction involving the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide by catalase, 50 cm3 of oxygen was produced, with an uncertainty value of 0.05 cm3. Calculate the percentage error of this measurement.

Percentage error = (uncertainty value ÷ your measurement) x 100

Percentage error = (0.05 ÷ 50) x 100

Percentage error = 0.001 x 100

Percentage error = 0.1%

Worked Example

In an enzyme rate experiment involving the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide by catalase, a student recorded that 10 cm3 of oxygen was produced in 5.245 seconds. The student measured this using a stopwatch that counted in milliseconds. Calculate the percentage error of the stopwatch measurements.

Step 1: Calculate the uncertainty value

The stopwatch can measure to the nearest millisecond (0.001 second)

This means the actual time taken could be up to 0.0005 seconds shorter or longer than this

This means stopwatch measurements have an uncertainty value of ± 0.0005 s

Step 2: Calculate the percentage error of the student’s measurement of 5.245 seconds

Percentage error = (uncertainty value ÷ your measurement) x 100

Percentage error = (0.0005 ÷ 5.245) x 100

Percentage error = 0.000095 x 100

Percentage error = 0.0095% or 0.01%

Author: Amelia

While studying Biochemistry at Oxford University, Amelia started her own tutoring service, helping to connect Science tutors with students in her local area. Amelia has experience teaching the sciences and Maths at all levels to UK and international students and, as well as being our Biology Lead, designs revision resources for Chemistry.
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