Decomposition Reactions

There’s always that one couple in school. You know the one, always fawning over each other and locked at the lips in the most public of places. The entire school knows about them and a vast majority hate them for flaunting their love. Until one day, the impossible happens. They fight. They fight publicly. And they fight dirty. Secrets are exposed to the world and someone ends up in tears. It’s not a pretty scene. It ends in a breakup, the messiest in your school’s remembered history.

High schoolers can be vicious – Pixabay

Everyone is shell-shocked. To have a pillar of your school crumble like that…it has shaken everyone to the core. Other couples hold each other tighter. Singles’ faith in love is destroyed just a little bit. Everyone’s heart hurts and they avoid eye contact with these two once-happy people. The previous lovebirds walk through the halls, alone…They alienated their friends with their overwhelming affection for each other and now…now they have no one. And so they drift. Listlessly, from class to class, they drift, each wondering what went wrong. Each wondering if they’ll ever love again…


In the above analogy, our two lovebirds at the beginning represent an already-formed chemical compound. After the break-up, they represent the components of the compound, now separated. The metaphor may be a little on the nose, but it illustrates decomposition reactions perfectly. The reverse of a synthesis reaction, decomposition reactions start with a single chemical compound that breaks down into its base components. Most often, this does not occur without some outside force causing the reaction to take place. In the analogy, this outside force is the vicious fight, but common forces for decomposition reactions include heat and high pressure, both of which make the bonds between the elements dissolve.


One example of this is the decomposition of mercury (II) oxide, a red solid. The equation, HgO -> 2Hg + O2, shows it breaking down into mercury, a slippery silver liquid, and oxygen, a clear gas. To see this in action, click on the broken heart that represents the lovebirds’ loveless lives. </3

You’ll notice that the reaction did not occur without the use of heat, which acted as a catalyst to move the molecules of the material and free the oxygen molecules from the bonds attaching it to the mercury molecules. Once free, the gaseous oxygen pairs up into O2 molecules, oxygen’s natural state, and floats on its merry way, leaving behind the silver mercury.

Next post: love triangles!


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