In an electrolysis experiment, the ions migrate towards electrodes of opposite charge. In this experiment the migration of an intensely coloured purple plume of manganate ions is seen to move towards the positive terminal.
A glass microscope slide is used to support a wet strip of filter paper on which a crystal of potassium manganate(VII) is placed to produce a small amount of an ionic solution. Applying a DC voltage across the filter paper causes the (+) and (-) ions in solution to move in opposite directions. A purple plume of the intensely coloured, negatively charged manganate(VII) ions is seen to move towards the positive terminal.
This experiment can be carried out in small groups of two or three students, or as a demonstration – with the aid of a camera link, if available, to project the movement that occurs on the microscope slide.
The experiment takes about 10 minutes to set up and about 20 - 30 minutes to give observable results.
Each group of students will need:
Glass microscope slide
Filter or chromatography paper, capable of being cut the same size as the slide
DC power supply, capable of delivering up to 40 V (Note 1)
Connecting leads, fitted with a crocodile clip at one end, 2
Potassium manganate(VII) (permanganate) (HARMFUL, OXIDISING, DANGEROUS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT), 1 small crystal
Refer to Health & Safety and Technical notes section below for additional information.
Health & Safety and Technical notes
Potassium manganate(VII) (HARMFUL, OXIDISING, DANGEROUS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard.
1 A power pack delivering a maximum of 20 V will suffice, but the mobility of the ions is reduced and it takes longer for a convincing observable result to be obtained.
a Cut the piece of filter paper to the width of the glass slide, but slightly longer than its length.
b Draw a pencil line down the middle of the paper to divide it into two sections lengthwise.
c Thoroughly moisten the paper with tap water, hold it vertically to remove any drips of excess water before placing it on the slide, then fold the excess at each end over the end of the slide.
d Using tweezers, transfer a small crystal of potassium manganate(VII) to the centre of the pencil line on the filter paper.
e Attach the leads from 40 V DC power supply by clamping the crocodile clips over the ends of the slide and the paper, noting which end is positive.
f Switch on the power supply and leave the apparatus for about 20 - 30 minutes. Write down any observations that you make.
This experiment normally gives observable results within a few minutes, and after about half an hour a purple plume should be seen to be slowly spreading towards the positive terminal.
In solution potassium manganate(VII) releases mobile, negatively charged manganate(VII) ions, MnO4–(aq), which are attracted towards the oppositely charged positive terminal.
This experiment works particularly well because manganate(VII) ions are so intensely coloured. If potassium manganate is replaced with another coloured salt, such iron(III) chloride, the Fe3+(aq) ions are seen travelling towards the negative terminal, but the observations are less spectacular as the intensity of the yellow-brown colour is relatively low compared with that of the purple manganate(VII) ions.
Health & Safety checked, July 2016
This Practical Chemistry resource was developed by the Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
© Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry
Chem-Toddler - A video clip of a similar, more complicated, experiment showing ion migration of both coloured (+) and (-) ions in a copper compound, [Cu(NH3)4]CrO4.
Page last updated July 2016
This is a resource from the Practical Chemistry project, developed by the Nuffield Foundation and the Royal Society of Chemistry. This collection of over 200 practical activities demonstrates a wide range of chemical concepts and processes. Each activity contains comprehensive information for teachers and technicians, including full technical notes and step-by-step procedures. Practical Chemistry activities accompany Practical Physics and Practical Biology.