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Chemistry LibreTexts

18.2: Collision Theory

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  • Car damage can be very expensive, especially if the person hitting your car does not have insurance. Many people have had the experience of backing up while parallel parking and hearing that "bump". Fortunately, there is often no damage because the cars were not going fast enough. But every once in a while there is a rearrangement of the body parts of a car when it is hit with sufficient speed. Then things need to be fixed.

    Collision Theory

    The behavior of the atoms, molecules, or ions that comprise the reactants is responsible for the rates of a given chemical reaction. Collision theory is a set of principles that states that the reacting particles can form products when they collide with one another provided those collisions have enough kinetic energy and the correct orientation. Particles that lack the necessary kinetic energy may collide, but the particles will simply bounce off one another unchanged. The figure below illustrates the difference. In the first collision, the particles bounce off one another and no rearrangement of atoms has occurred. The second collision occurs with greater kinetic energy, and so the bond between the two red atoms breaks. One red atom bonds with the other molecule as one product, while the single red atom is the other product. The first collision is called an ineffective collision, while the second collision is called an effective collision.

    Figure 18.2.1: An ineffective collision (A) is one that does not result in product formation. An effective collision (B) is one in which chemical bonds are broken and a product is formed. (CC BY-NC; CK-12)


    • Collision theory explains how materials can collide and become new materials.


    • CK-12 Foundation by Sharon Bewick, Richard Parsons, Therese Forsythe, Shonna Robinson, and Jean Dupon.