Acid vs. Base: a pHabulous Fight!

Nurro, Brax, vs, competition, tug of war, Elena Daly, Eyewire, citizen science

Have the kids these days ever accused you of being basic? If you care about having a low concentration of hydrogen ions, that might not be an insult! Then again, if you care about having a high concentration of hydrogen ions, you might not want to be basic at all; you’d rather be acidic. That’s right: it’s time to learn about “potential for hydrogen,” also known as pH!

The logarithmic pH scale runs from 0 to 14. At room temperature, the pH of pure water is 7, considered “neutral.” Anything with a pH lower than 7 is acidic, and anything with a pH higher than 7 is basic (or, as some folks call it, alkaline). The further you go on either direction of the scale, the more acidic or basic you get, and since we’re talking logarithmically, we mean really acidic or basic. And when you mix acids and bases together, you can create some pretty wild chemical reactions as the new substance essentially tries to “neutralize” itself. That’s why when you combine vinegar (an acid) and baking soda (a base), you get wild fizziness.

If you could choose to be an acid or a base, which would you be? This competition starts at 11 AM EDT on 5/11 and goes for 48 hours!

Your teams:


  • On the milder end of things, acidic substances can include milk (pH 6.3-6.6) or coffee (pH 5). Some of the really intense stuff includes tomato juice (pH 2.5-3.5), lemon juice or vinegar (pH 2), and battery acid or hydrochloric acid (pH 0).
  • Some of these are safe to ingest, and others are decidedly not! But you may also find that if you have acid reflux, your stomach isn’t very happy about even the milder acids.
  • Did you know that for gardeners and farmers, the pH content of your soil matters for what plants you can grow? Many plants thrive in a range of pH values relative to 7, but some prefer more acidic soil; the acid-loving hydrangea will produce blue flowers when it has enough acid, and pink flowers when it’s not enough! You can make your soil more acidic by adding compost.


  • On the milder end of things, basic/alkaline substances can include sea water (pH 8) or baking soda (pH 9). Some of the wilder stuff includes ammonia (pH 10.5-11.5) and bleach or lye (pH 13.5).
  • If it sounds like bases are mostly inedible, that’s not true! Green veggies like kale, spinach, and broccoli are alkaline, and they’re pretty dang good for you.
  • Just as some plants prefer to grow in acidic soil, others prefer alkaline soil. That goes for a lot of those green veggies, but also plants like lavender and lilac. You can make your soil more alkaline by adding lime (that is, calcium carbonate, not the fruit!).

Bonuses are detailed in your notifications. Good luck, and may the best pH win!

Artwork by Elena Daly