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What is the purpose of a buffer in chemistry?

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Quick Answer

Buffer solutions play a large role in biochemical functions. Because buffers resist changes in pH levels, they are used to regulate biological functions that only occur at certain pH levels. Buffers can also be used to store compounds that would denature in more acidic or basic solutions.

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Full Answer

A buffer solution is a solution that consists of either a weak acid and its conjugate base or a weak base and its conjugate acid. The conjugate acids or bases are typical the respective salts of the weak base or acid. Buffer solutions can resist changes in pH because the weak acid or base and conjugate salt parings allow for the solution to neutralize any changes within a specific range that varies between specific buffers. If the pH is changed dramatically, a buffer solution may begin to fail to stabilize the pH level.

Biochemical processes are easily affected by pH levels and only proceed in vary narrow ranges. A buffer can assist with this by rectifying any changes caused by the biochemical reactions or by the addition of any chemicals. The most common buffer systems in the human body are the phosphate buffer system, the bicarbonate buffer system, and the protein buffer system.

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