Chemistry » Gases » Relating Pressure, Volume, Amount, and Temperature: The Ideal Gas Law

Relating Pressure, Volume, Amount, and Temperature: The Ideal Gas Law

Introducing The Ideal Gas Law

During the seventeenth and especially eighteenth centuries, driven both by a desire to understand nature and a quest to make balloons in which they could fly (see the figure below), a number of scientists established the relationships between the macroscopic physical properties of gases, that is, pressure, volume, temperature, and amount of gas.

Although their measurements were not precise by today’s standards, they were able to determine the mathematical relationships between pairs of these variables (e.g., pressure and temperature, pressure and volume) that hold for an ideal gas—a hypothetical construct that real gases approximate under certain conditions.

Eventually, these individual laws were combined into a single equation—the ideal gas law—that relates gas quantities for gases and is quite accurate for low pressures and moderate temperatures. We will consider the key developments in individual relationships (for pedagogical reasons not quite in historical order), then put them together in the ideal gas law.

This figure includes three images. Image a is a black and white image of a hydrogen balloon apparently being deflated by a mob of people. In image b, a blue, gold, and red balloon is being held to the ground with ropes while positioned above a platform from which smoke is rising beneath the balloon. In c, an image is shown in grey on a peach-colored background of an inflated balloon with vertical striping in the air. It appears to have a basket attached to its lower side. A large stately building appears in the background.

In 1783, the first (a) hydrogen-filled balloon flight, (b) manned hot air balloon flight, and (c) manned hydrogen-filled balloon flight occurred. When the hydrogen-filled balloon depicted in (a) landed, the frightened villagers of Gonesse reportedly destroyed it with pitchforks and knives. The launch of the latter was reportedly viewed by 400,000 people in Paris.

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