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Energetics of Chemical Reactions

Author: John Hutchinson

We begin our study of the energetics of chemical reactions with our understanding of mass relationships, determined by the stoichiometry of balanced reactions and the relative atomic masses of the elements. We will assume a conceptual understanding of energy based on the physics of mechanics, and in particular, we will assume the law of conservation of energy. In developing a molecular understanding of the reaction energetics, we will further assume our understanding of chemical bonding via valence shell electron pair sharing and molecular orbital theory.

The heat released or consumed in a chemical reaction is typically amongst the most easily observed and most readily appreciated consequences of the reaction. Many chemical reactions are performed routinely specifically for the purpose of utilizing the heat released by the reaction.

We are interested here in an understanding of the energetics of chemical reactions. Specifically, we wish to know what factors determine whether heat is absorbed or released during a chemical reaction. With that knowledge, we seek to quantify and predict the amount of heat anticipated in a chemical reaction. We expect to find that the quantity of heat absorbed or released during a reaction is related to the bonding of the molecules involved in the reaction.

Prior to answering these questions, we must first answer a few questions regarding the nature of heat. Despite our common familiarity with heat (particularly in Houston), the concept of heat is somewhat elusive to define. We recognize heat as "whatever it is that makes things hot," but this definition is too imprecise to permit measurement or any other conceptual progress. Exactly how do we define and measure heat?

Last Update: 2011-02-16