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Avogadro Goes to Court

Co Authors:

Joseph Bieron
Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry
Canisius College

Frank J. Dinan
Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry
Canisius College


This case study was inspired by a successful lawsuit brought by students against a professor at Pace University who had assigned them the task of calculating the cost of a single aluminum atom in a roll of aluminum foil. The case deals with the concepts of Avogadro’s number and the mole, and so would be relevant to nearly all introductory level science courses including chemistry courses for non-science majors, general science courses, and, perhaps, some introductory level biology courses in addition to general chemistry.

  • Use the seemingly abstract concept of Avogadro’s number in a concrete way to carry out a cost calculation.
  • Realize that although a mole is a unit of mass, like a pound or a kilogram, it is more fundamentally a counting measurement, like a dozen or a gross, and that it is the mass of the individual particles in the count that determines the mass of the mole.
  • Make calculations that are at least three-significant-figure accuracy.
  • Gain practice in documenting the methods used to inter-convert the units used in calculations.
Keywords: Avogadro's number; mole; significant figure; unit conversion; dimensional analysis; experimental design; Amedeo Avogadro
Topical Area: Scientific method
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Laboratory
Language: English
Subject Headings: Chemistry (General)   Science (General)  
Date Posted: 08/10/99
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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I am doing this with my honors chemistry class (mainly 10th graders) and they finished it very quickly. This was after a discussion of moles, Avogadro'number and dimensional analysis. I also used a 12 in x 12 in piece (easier to tear off the roll) and the current price of a box of foil, which was $7.99. Haven't checked answers yet, but definitely didn't take as much time as listed in the teacher's notes.

Ema Gluckmann
C.K. McClatchy High School
Sacramento, CA

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