Investigating a natural composite – chicken bone

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Investigating a natural composite – chicken bone

Bone is a natural composite material. It contains:

  • An inorganic, giant ionic part made of a type of calcium phosphate called hydroxyapatite

  • An organic, covalent molecular part made of a protein called collagen (which is also found in hair and finger nails)

  • Water.

Bone is made by living cells in the body.

1. Given what you know about giant ionic substances and covalent substances, which of
the following properties do you think will apply to calcium phosphate and which to collagen? Tick the correct boxes.

Calcium phosphate






You are going to carry out an experiment to remove each of the three components of bone listed above from a sample of chicken bone. You should observe what happens to the structure and properties of the bone as each part is removed.

Each part of the experiment takes some time so you will carry it out over a number of lessons. Make sure you keep notes of what you have done and your observations.

You will need

Health and safety

Chicken bones can be contaminated with salmonella and other diseases. Ensure that you wash your hands thoroughly after handling the bones and before you eat. Do not put your fingers in your mouth during the experiment.
Wear eye protection when handling 1 mol/dm3 hydrochloric acid.

What to do

Session 1

  • Put one of the chicken bones into a beaker and cover it with hydrochloric acid. You are trying to remove the calcium phosphate from the bone. Leave it for 1–2 days. If you leave it for much longer, you will also remove the collagen. This is chicken bone 1.

  • Measure the mass and the volume of the second bone. Calculate its density. This is chicken bone 2.

  • Then heat the bone in an oven at 60 °C overnight to remove the water.


Part of bone

Density (g/cm3)

Calcium phosphate






2. How does the density of the whole bone compare to the densities of the components of
the bone?

3. Try to explain the difference between the density of the bone and the densities of its

Session 2

  • Use forceps or tongs to remove chicken bone 1 from the acid, wash and dry it gently.

4. What was removed by the acid?

5. What difference has this made to the properties of the bone?

6. What problems would you have if the bones in your body were like this?

  • Take chicken bone 2 and weigh it. Mass of chicken bone 2 = _______________ g

7. Work out the mass of water that has been lost from the bone. Use the following
formula: mass of bone at start – mass of bone now = mass of water in bone

8. Calculate the new density of the bone. Assume that the volume of the bone is the same
as it was before heating.

  • Have chicken bone 2 heated more strongly in a furnace or very hot oven. This will remove the collagen and leave just the calcium phosphate.

Session 3

Health and safety

Chicken bone 2 has now become bone ash. This bone ash can contain calcium oxide which is an alkali and can cause damage if it gets in your eyes. Wear eye protection and gloves. Avoid inhaling any dust or powder from the bone.

  • Weigh what is left of chicken bone 2. Mass = _____________ g

9. What has been removed by this final stage of heating?

10. Calculate the mass of collagen that was present in the bone.

11. What difference has removing the collagen made to the properties of the bone?

12. What problems would you have if the bones in your body were like this?

Bone is less dense than might be expected for a simple combinaton of collagen and calcium phosphate.

13. Try to explain this in terms of the structure of the bone.

14. Why might it be an advantage to have bones made this way?

15. Would you expect bones to have the same density if they are from
a. different parts of the skeleton?

b. different animals?

Give reasons for your answers.

Investigating chicken bone – page of Index 4.3.4

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