Mathematical modelling of the vitamin C clock reaction

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Chemical clock reactions are characterized by a relatively long induction period followed by a rapid ‘switchover’ during which the concentration of a clock chemical rises rapidly. In addition to their interest in chemistry education, these reactions are relevant to industrial and biochemical applications. A substrate-depletive, non-autocatalytic clock reaction involving household chemicals (vitamin C, iodine, hydrogen peroxide and starch) is modelled mathematically via a system of nonlinear ordinary differential equations. Following dimensional analysis, the model is analysed in the phase plane and via matched asymptotic expansions. Asymptotic approximations are found to agree closely with numerical solutions in the appropriate time regions. Asymptotic analysis also yields an approximate formula for the dependence of switchover time on initial concentrations and the rate of the slow reaction. This formula is tested via ‘kitchen sink chemistry’ experiments, and is found to enable a good fit to experimental series varying in initial concentrations of both iodine and vitamin C. The vitamin C clock reaction provides an accessible model system for mathematical chemistry.


Original languageEnglish
Article number181367
Number of pages12
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2019


  • Clock reaction, Matched asymptotic expansions, Mathematical chemistry

ASJC Scopus subject areas