Higher and foundation tier
When we think of metals we usually think of a shiny, hard material which is strong and fairly unreactive. However not all metals fit this description, some metals are soft and very reactive . Group 1 in the periodic table is called the alkali metals, it contains the metals lithium, sodium , potassium, rubidium, caesium and francium. These metals are all very reactive and must be handled with great care. Lithium at the top of group 1 is the least reactive and as we go down the group the metals react more and more violently. Since they are in group 1 of the periodic table they all have one electron in their last shell, so losing this electron will give them a full oter electron shell (stable electronic structure). Losing their outer electron will mean they form ions with a +1 charge e.g. Li+, Na+, K+, Rb+ , Cs+.
The physical properties of the alkali metals are also very different from what you might expect of a typical metal. The table below lists the melting and boiling points of the alkali metals as well as their densities.
|alkali metal||melting point/0C||boiling point/0C||density(g/cm3) at 250C|
To compare alkali metals with some other everyday metals compare the values in the table below with the table above.
|metal||melting point/0C||boiling point/0C||density(g/cm3) at 250C|
By studying the information in the table it is fairly clear that the alkali metals have unusually low melting and boiling points when compared to other metals, their densities are also low when compared to other metals. The density of water is 1 g/cm3, so any metal with a density less than this will float in water. However the alkali metals react violently with water, this is one of the reasons why they are stored in jars containing oil or paraffin, this ensures that water is kept well away from these reactive metals.
The information in the table for the alkali metals shows other trends or patterns:
The alkali metals react very violently
with water to form an
solution and the flammable
gas hydrogen is slso released. The image below shows the typical reactions of lithium, sodium and potassium
with water. Enough heat is generated in these reactions with the
water that the metal may actually melt and form a
ball of molten liquid metal that shoots across the surface of the
The reaction of water with potssium is violent enough that the hydrogen gas will ignite by itself and burn with a mauve flame (lilac or pale purple). Sodium and lithium react less violently and the hydrogen produced here will not ignite and burn by itself but will have to be lit by a burning splint, however once lit the gas will continue to burn on its own. Sodium colours the hydrogen flame yellow and lithium will turn the burning hydrogen gas brick red.
If a few drops of universal indicator are added to the water in the glass trough above then it will quickly turn purple once the alkali metals start reacting, showing that a strong alkali has been formed. Rubidium and caesium being at the bottom of group 1 are even more reactive, they are more dense than water and will sink but they react in a similar but much more violent way, e.g.
Similar violent reactions occur between the alkali metals and
oxygen and chlorine gases to form oxides, peroxides, superoxides and
chlorides, the same trends are always seen, the reactions become more violent the lower the
metal is in group 1. The
reason for this is that all alkali metals have 1
electron in their outer (last electron shell),
therefore if they can lose this one electron they will end up with a stable or full last shell and as mentioned above
less energy is required to remove this outer shell electron the further down group 1 the
metal is found.
Since the metals are losing 1 electron, the atom will end up with 1 more positively
charged proton in the
nucleus than negatively charged electrons in its shells, so it will end up forming a positive ion with
a charge of +1.
The image below shows the set-up needed to react the alkali metal sodium with chlorine gas. This reaction is very violent. A bright flash is seen as the sodium and chlorine react. The flask fills up with white "smoke", which is solid sodium chloride.
The alkali metals react with the halogens (F,Cl,Br,I) to form colourless ionic solids. The reactions
are very exothermic and can be violent. The reactions follow the expected trends, the more reactive
the alkali metals and the more reactive the halogen the
more violent and explosive the reaction. The reaction can be
The products of the reaction of an alkali metal with oxygen depends on its reactivity. Normally when oxygen reacts it gains 2 electrons to form the oxide ion, O2-. This ion is particularly stable since the oxide ion has full octet or 8 electrons in its outer shell. However in the reactions of oxygen with the alkali metals other ions of oxygen are also formed. One of these ions, the peroxide ion has the formula O2 2- and it forms when sodium and potassium react with oxygen.