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Fractional Distillation of Esters

Figure from experiment 9 from Organic Chemistry with Vernier


Fractional distillation is a technique used to separate mixtures of compounds into pure components. At a given temperature, a pure liquid has a specific vapor pressure. Heating the liquid provides a greater mole fraction of molecules with the kinetic energy needed to escape into the gas phase. This temperature, when the vapor pressure of a liquid equals the atmospheric pressure, is defined as the boiling temperature of a substance.

If substances in a mixture have significantly different vapor pressures, they can be separated by a technique known as simple distillation. In simple distillation, a mixture is warmed slowly and the most volatile liquid vaporizes first. The vapor is then condensed back to liquid and collected in a separate flask. For mixtures of compounds with similar boiling points, you could perform a simple distillation multiple times, or employ fractional distillation.

A fractionating column is one designed to allow multiple simple distillations to occur over its length. One type of fractionating column is a long glass tube packed with glass or ceramic beads that allows the vapor to condense and vaporize multiple times as it travels up the column. Each cycle of condensation and evaporation is called a theoretical plate. The more theoretical plates in the column, the better the separation between the compounds in a mixture will be.


In this experiment, you will

  • Measure and analyze the retention times and peak areas of ethyl acetate and butyl acetate.
  • Conduct the fractional distillation of a mixture of ethyl acetate and butyl acetate.
  • Measure and analyze the retention times and peak areas of the fractions.
  • Estimate the mole fraction of the components of the mixture.

Sensors and Equipment

This experiment features the following Vernier sensors and equipment.

Additional Requirements

You may also need an interface and software for data collection. What do I need for data collection?

Organic Chemistry with Vernier

See other experiments from the lab book.

1Determining Melting Temperature
3Determination of a Boiling Point
4Identifying an Unknown Analgesic by Three Methods
5Separation of Organic Compounds by Acid-Base Extraction Techniques
6Understanding Polarimetry
7Identification of Organic Unknowns Using Polarimetry
8Investigating Gas Chromatography
9Fractional Distillation of Esters
10Understanding Intermolecular Forces Using a Gas Chromatograph: Enthalpy of Vaporization
11Investigating Thermodynamic Relationships of Substituted Hydrocarbons
12Extraction of Spinach Pigments and Analysis by Electronic Absorption Spectroscopy
13SN1: Synthesis of t-butyl chloride
14SN2: Synthesis of 1-bromobutane
15Observing the Reaction Kinetics of Sucrose with Polarimetry
16The Synthesis and Analysis of Aspirin
17Isolation of R-(+)-Limonene from Oranges using Steam Distillation
18Synthesizing Ethyl Acetate by Fisher Esterification
19Synthesis of Dibenzalacetone by Aldol Condensation
20The Diels-Alder Reaction of Anthracene with Maleic Anhydride
21Friedel-Crafts Acylation of Ferrocene
22Grignard Formation of Crystal Violet
23Synthesis of Fluorescein
24Synthesis of Methyl Orange and Its Application to Textiles
25Analysis of Natural Products
26Using a Gas Chromatograph: Identifying an Unknown Compound

Experiment 9 from Organic Chemistry with Vernier Lab Book

<i>Organic Chemistry with Vernier</i> book cover

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