The Kinetic-Molecular Theory
The gas laws that we have seen to this point, as well as the ideal gas equation, are empirical, that is, they have been derived from experimental observations. The mathematical forms of these laws closely describe the macroscopic behavior of most gases at pressures less than about 1 or 2 atm. Although the gas laws describe relationships that have been verified by many experiments, they do not tell us why gases follow these relationships.
The kinetic molecular theory (KMT) is a simple microscopic model that effectively explains the gas laws described in previous modules of this tutorial. This theory is based on the following five postulates described here. (Note: The term “molecule” will be used to refer to the individual chemical species that compose the gas, although some gases are composed of atomic species, for example, the noble gases.)
- Gases are composed of molecules that are in continuous motion, travelling in straight lines and changing direction only when they collide with other molecules or with the walls of a container.
- The molecules composing the gas are negligibly small compared to the distances between them.
- The pressure exerted by a gas in a container results from collisions between the gas molecules and the container walls.
- Gas molecules exert no attractive or repulsive forces on each other or the container walls; therefore, their collisions are elastic (do not involve a loss of energy).
- The average kinetic energy of the gas molecules is proportional to the kelvin temperature of the gas.
The test of the KMT and its postulates is its ability to explain and describe the behavior of a gas. The various gas laws can be derived from the assumptions of the KMT, which have led chemists to believe that the assumptions of the theory accurately represent the properties of gas molecules.
We will first look at the individual gas laws (Boyle’s, Charles’s, Amontons’s, Avogadro’s, and Dalton’s laws) conceptually to see how the KMT explains them. Then, we will more carefully consider the relationships between molecular masses, speeds, and kinetic energies with temperature, and explain Graham’s law.