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Density and Compressibility of Gas

Author: John Hutchinson

For low densities for which the Ideal Gas Law is valid, the pressure of a gas is independent of the nature of the gas, and is therefore independent of the characteristics of the particles of that gas. We can build on this observation by considering the significance of a low particle density. Even at the high particle densities considered in this figure, all gases have low density in comparison to the densities of liquids. To illustrate, we note that 1 gram of liquid water at its boiling point has a volume very close to 1 milliliter. In comparison, this same 1 gram of water, once evaporated into steam, has a volume of over 1700 milliliters. How does this expansion by a factor of 1700 occur? It is not credible that the individual water molecules suddenly increase in size by this factor. The only plausible conclusion is that the distance between gas molecules has increased dramatically.

Therefore, it is a characteristic of a gas that the molecules are far apart from one another. In addition, the lower the density of the gas the farther apart the molecules must be, since the same number of molecules occupies a larger volume at lower density.

We reinforce this conclusion by noting that liquids and solids are virtually incompressible, whereas gases are easily compressed. This is easily understood if the molecules in a gas are very far apart from one another, in contrast to the liquid and solid where the molecules are so close as to be in contact with one another.

We add this conclusion to the observations in figure 1 and figure 2 that the pressure exerted by a gas depends only on the number of particles in the gas and is independent of the type of particles in the gas, provided that the density is low enough. This requires that the gas particles be far enough apart. We conclude that the Ideal Gas Law holds true because there is sufficient distance between the gas particles that the identity of the gas particles becomes irrelevant.

Why should this large distance be required? If gas particle A were far enough away from gas particle B that they experience no electrical or magnetic interaction, then it would not matter what types of particles A and B were. Nor would it matter what the sizes of particles A and B were. Finally, then, we conclude from this reasoning that the validity of the ideal gas law rests of the presumption that there are no interactions of any type between gas particles.

Last Update: 2011-02-16