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Reaction Rates

Author: John Hutchinson

We will assume an understanding of the postulates of the Kinetic Molecular Theory and of the energetics of chemical reactions. We will also assume an understanding of phase equilibrium and reaction equilibrium, including the temperature dependence of equilibrium constants.

We have carefully examined the observation that chemical reactions come to equilibrium. Depending on the reaction, the equilibrium conditions can be such that there is a mixture of reactants and products, or virtually all products, or virtually all reactants. We have not considered the time scale for the reaction to achieve these conditions, however. In many cases, the speed of the reaction might be of more interest than the final equilibrium conditions of the reaction. Some reactions proceed so slowly towards equilibrium as to appear not to occur at all. For example, metallic iron will eventually oxidize in the presence of aqueous salt solutions, but the time is sufficiently long for this process that we can reasonably expect to build a boat out of iron. On the other hand, some reactions may be so rapid as to pose a hazard. For example, hydrogen gas will react with oxygen gas so rapidly as to cause an explosion. In addition, the time scale for a reaction can depend very strongly on the amounts of reactants and their temperature.

In this concept development study, we seek an understanding of the rates of chemical reactions. We will define and measure reaction rates and develop a quantitative analysis of the dependence of the reaction rates on the conditions of the reaction, including concentration of reactants and temperature. This quantitative analysis will provide us insight into the process of a chemical reaction and thus lead us to develop a model to provide an understanding of the significance of reactant concentration and temperature.

We will find that many reactions proceed quite simply, with reactant molecules colliding and exchanging atoms. In other cases, we will find that the process of reaction can be quite complicated, involving many molecular collisions and rearrangements leading from reactant molecules to product molecules. The rate of the chemical reaction is determined by these steps.

Last Update: 2011-02-16