delta H

The term enthalpy change is a term to describe the amount of heat that passes in or out of a system during a chemical reaction or a physical process.

  • You: How much energy is absorbed when the ice melts in the cup?
  • Science: What’s the enthalpy change when the ice melts in the cup?
  • You: How much energy is released when the logs burns?
  • Science: What’s the enthalpy change when the logs burns?




In school, you can measure the heat exchange of a reaction in a device called a calorimeter. The experiment is conducted under atmospheric pressure which is constant. By measuring the temperature rise or drop for the reaction, you can determine the heat exchange – or the enthalpy change – of the system with its surrounding.A coffee-cup calorimeter

Using the calorimeter in school isn’t the most accurate way of determining enthalpy change of a reaction because of heat losses.  However, the experiment can be conducted easily in the laboratory and it will give a good approximation for the enthalpy value by assuming heat is not lost to the surroundings.

Delta H

Enthalpy change is expressed as:


kJ = kiloJoules
mol = moles

A combustion reaction

A calorimeter - peanut combustion

Calorimeters come in many shapes and sizes. The above shows an example of an experiment to measure the enthalpy change in a combustion reaction (eg. burning peanuts). In a combustion reaction, the substance reacts with oxygen in the air to give off energy in the form of light and heat.

In the food industry, food calorimetry is a technique used in measuring the calories of food. Expensive calorimeters are used to conduct combustion reactions to determine the amount of energy in the food.

Endothermic & exothermic

  • If the enthalpy change is n e g a t i v e, the reaction is exothermic — it releases heat.
  • If enthalpy change is p o s i t i v e,  the reaction is endothermic — it absorbs heat.

Sodium chloride and hydrochloric acid reaction

Sodium and chloride combines to become sodium chloride (table salt)
HCl(aq) + NaOH(aq) --> NaOH(aq) + H2O(l)

  • During this process, heat is released
  • The energy of the product (NaCl) is lower than that of the reactants (Na + Cl).
  • Therefore the enthalpy change is negative

Is photosynthesis exothermic or endothermic?

Photosynthesis absorbs energy

Photosynthesis chemical equation - an endothermic reaction

  • In photosynthesis, energy is absorbed to create glucose (C6H12O6)
  • The energy of the products (glucose and O₂) is higher than the reactants (CO₂ and H₂O)
  • Therefore the reaction is endothermic, indicated by a negative change in enthalpy

youtube-344106__180Watch an effective endothermic reaction experiment by Professor Bob Burk



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