The colors of transition metal compounds are highly variable. Aqueous solutions of nickel are green, of copper are blue, and of vanadium can range from yellow to blue to green to violet. What is the origin of these colors? A simple geometrical model known as crystal field theory can be used to differentiate the 5 d orbitals in energy. When an electron in a low-lying orbital interacts with visible light, the electron can be promoted to a higher-lying orbital with the absorption of a photon. Our brains perceive this as color. Rubies, dark red, and emeralds, brilliant green, are precious gemstones known since antiquity. What causes the color in these beautiful crystals? Using crystal field theory, we can explain the colors in these gemstones.
1. Derive the crystal field splitting for d orbitals in an octahedral geometry
2. Predict the magnitude of d orbital splitting
3. Relate color, energy, wavelength, and crystal field strength
Day 1: none
Day 2: access to laptops (one per group or individual) and crystalmaker software (free download avaialbe)
This LO was used in a first-year chemistry class at Harvey Mudd College in Fall 2015. I started with a brief lecture (see instructor notes) and then turned the class loose in small groups of about 5 students. I walked through the room to answer questions and guide the groups.
The first day’s activities were taken from a J. Chem. Educ. article (J. Chem. Educ., 2015, 92, 1369-1372). This article has a lot of detail that could be adapted for local use. The related activity "metal and Ionic Lattices Guided Inquiry Worksheet" may be appropriate as review/background material, depending on the placement of this activity in your syllabus.
The second day’s activities rely on the use of crystalmaker, a structure visualization program. There is a free demo version available (http://crystalmaker.com/software/index.html)
Fairly detailed instructor notes are included as a "faculty only" file.
The references for the structures I used are here:
Gibbs G V, Breck D W, Meagher E P (1968) Structural refinement of hydrous and anhydrous synthetic beryl, Al2(Be3Si6)O18 and emerald, Al1.9Cr0.1(Be3Si6)O18 Note: hydrous emerald. Lithos 1:275-285
Wang X, Hubbard C, Alexander K, Becher P (1994) Neutron diffraction measurements of the residual stresses in Al2O3 - ZrO2 (CeO2) ceramic composites _cod_database_code 1000059. Journal of the American Ceramic Society 77:1569-1575
I relied on a book called "The science of Color" and a website on color theory (linked below) to develop the 2nd days activities.
The Science of Color,” volume 2, edited by Alex Byrne and David R. Hilbert, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1997, pp. 10-17.