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The pH Scale

Since hydrogen ions are positively charged they alter the charge environment of the molecules they are bonded to.

These molecules change their shape as a result. This is particularly important for proteins, because their shape is related to their function.

The concentration of hydrogen ions is commonly expressed in terms of the pH scale:

  • Low pH equates to high hydrogen ion concentration
  • High pH corresponds to low hydrogen ion concentration
  • A substance with a high concentration of hydrogen ions and thus low pH is called an acid
  • A substance with a low concentration of hydrogen ions and thus high pH is called a base (or alkaline)
  • Substances that enable organisms to regulate their pH in the presence of an acid or base are called buffers.

Note on next page that each decrease in pH by one pH unit means a tenfold increase in concentration of hydrogen ions.

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