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Deviations from the Ideal Gas Law

Author: John Hutchinson

We are at last in a position to understand the observations above of deviations from the Ideal Gas Law. The most important assumption of our model of the behavior of an ideal gas is that the gas molecules do not interact. This allowed us to calculate the force imparted on the wall of the container due to a single particle collision without worrying about where the other particles were. In order for a gas to disobey the Ideal Gas Law, the conditions must be such that this assumption is violated.

What do the deviations from ideality tell us about the gas particles? Starting with very low density and increasing the density as in figure 1, we find that, for many gases, the value of PV/nRT falls below 1. One way to state this result is that, for a given value of V, n, and T, the pressure of the gas is less than it would have been for an ideal gas. This must be the result of the interactions of the gas particles. In order for the pressure to be reduced, the force of the collisions of the particles with the walls must be less than is predicted by our model of an ideal gas. Therefore, the effect of the interactions is to slow the particles as they approach the walls of the container. This means that an individual particle approaching a wall must experience a force acting to pull it back into the body of the gas. Hence, the gas particles must attract one another. Therefore, the effect of increasing the density of the gas is that the gas particles are confined in closer proximity to one another. At this closer range, the attractions of individual particles become significant. It should not be surprising that these attractive forces depend on what the particles are. We note in figure 1 that deviation from the Ideal Gas Law is greater for ammonia than for nitrogen, and greater for nitrogen than for helium. Therefore, the attractive interactions of ammonia molecules are greater than those of nitrogen molecules, which are in turn greater than those of helium atoms. We analyze this conclusion is more detail below.

Continuing to increase the density of the gas, we find in figure 2 that the value of PV/nRT begins to rise, eventually exceeding 1 and continuing to increase. Under these conditions, therefore, the pressure of the gas is greater than we would have expected from our model of non-interacting particles. What does this tell us? The gas particles are interacting in such a way as to increase the force of the collisions of the particles with the walls. This requires that the gas particles repel one another. As we move to higher density, the particles are forced into closer and closer proximity. We can conclude that gas particles at very close range experience strong repulsive forces away from one another.

Our model of the behavior of gases can be summarized as follows: at low density, the gas particles are sufficiently far apart that there are no interactions between them. In this case, the pressure of the gas is independent of the nature of the gas and agrees with the Ideal Gas Law. At somewhat higher densities, the particles are closer together and the interaction forces between the particles are attractive. The pressure of the gas now depends on the strength of these interactions and is lower than the value predicted by the Ideal Gas Law. At still higher densities, the particles are excessively close together, resulting in repulsive interaction forces. The pressure of the gas under these conditions is higher than the value predicted by the Ideal Gas Law.

Last Update: 2011-02-16