Copper sulphate must be one of the most widely used chemicals, with many agricultural and industrial applications, as well as in a research and pharmaceutical setting.
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Copper sulphate was once used as an emetic (to provoke vomiting in case of poisoning), but is now considered toxic and no longer used for this purpose.
Nowadays, one of its main applications as a germicide and antiseptic against fungal infections is in the field of public health in swimming pools, where it’s used to limit algae development in the water, or is incorporated in the floor to prevent spread of athlete’s foot. In tropical climates, it’s traditionally used to control various diseases, including fluke. In this case, it can be considered a molluscicide, as it targets infected snails. Finally, it can serve as raw material in the manufacture of copper catalysts to be used in the pharmaceutical industry.
This compound is regularly used in schools and universities in copper plating experiments or simply to demonstrate how to grow crystals. As it is mildly toxic, it’s shouldn’t be used by very young children. One of the subjects generally covered with this chemical are exothermic reactions, shown by adding magnesium to a solution containing copper sulphate. Due to its ability to change colour according to the level of hydration, it’s also commonly used to explain this effect. Blue pentahydrate form is converted to white anhydrous by heating and causing the water to evaporate. The reverse reaction occurs when water is added to the original sample, which crystallises back to blue. This is possible because copper sulphate is highly hygroscopic.
Flame tests are also routine in school labs, with copper emitting a dark green flame, except in the presence of chlorine, when the flame turns blue.
Another reaction demonstrated with copper sulphate refers to a replacement reaction with a single metal, where iron is added to a copper sulphate solution to produce iron sulphate (FeSO4) and copper precipitates (Cu).
Fe + CuSO4 –> FeSO4 + Cu
Reagent in Chemical Analysis
There are several tests that use copper sulphate. This includes, for example, Benedict’s and Fehling’s solution to identify the presence of sugars. If present, soluble blue copper sulphate is converted into insoluble red copper oxide. This compound can also be used to test for proteins (Biuret reagent).
Another important use is to test for anaemia, where a drop of blood is added to a copper sulphate solution with a known specific gravity. If the patient suffers from low iron levels, the blood doesn’t sink in the solution, in contrast to what happens in healthy patients with normal levels of haemoglobin.
Article credit: TheChemicalBlog