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Chemistry LibreTexts

11.3: Pressure: The Result of Constant Molecular Collisions

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  • Page ID
    98068
  • Learning Objectives

    • Define pressure.
    • Learn the units of pressure and how to convert between them.

    The kinetic theory of gases indicates that gas particles are always in motion and are colliding with other particles and the walls of the container holding them. Although collisions with container walls are elastic (i.e., there is no net energy gain or loss because of the collision), a gas particle does exert a force on the wall during the collision. The accumulation of all these forces distributed over the area of the walls of the container causes something we call pressure. Pressure (P) is defined as the force of all the gas particle/wall collisions divided by the area of the wall:

    \[pressure=\frac{force}{area}\]

    All gases exert pressure; it is one of the fundamental measurable quantities of this phase of matter. Even our atmosphere exerts pressure—in this case, the gas is being “held in” by the earth’s gravity, rather than the gas being in a container. The pressure of the atmosphere is about 14.7 pounds of force for every square inch of surface area: 14.7 lb/in2.

    Pressure has a variety of units. The formal, SI-approved unit of pressure is the pascal (Pa), which is defined as 1 N/m2 (one newton of force over an area of one square meter). However, this is usually too small in magnitude to be useful. A common unit of pressure is the atmosphere (atm), which was originally defined as the average atmospheric pressure at sea level.

    However, “average atmospheric pressure at sea level” is difficult to pinpoint because of atmospheric pressure variations. A more reliable and common unit is millimeters of mercury (mmHg), which is the amount of pressure exerted by a column of mercury exactly 1 mm high. An equivalent unit is the torr, which equals 1 mmHg. (The torr is named after Evangelista Torricelli, a seventeenth-century Italian scientist who invented the mercury barometer.) With these definitions of pressure, the atmosphere unit is redefined: 1 atm is defined as exactly 760 mmHg, or 760 torr. We thus have the following equivalences:

    1 atm=760 mmHg=760 torr

    We can use these equivalences as with any equivalences—to perform conversions from one unit to another. Relating these to the formal SI unit of pressure, 1 atm = 101,325 Pa.

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\): Pressure Conversion

     

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    How many atmospheres are there in 595 torr 

    Steps for Problem Solving

    Unit Conversion

    Identify the "given” information and what the problem is asking you to "find."

    Given: 595 torr

    Find: ?atm

    List other known quantities.

    1 atm = 760 torr

    Prepare a concept map.

    Cancel units and calculate.

    \(595\, \cancel{torr}\times \frac{1\, atm}{760\, \cancel{torr}}=0.783\, atm\)

    Think about your result.

    595 torr is less than 760 torr so the final answer should be less than 1 atm

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    How many atmospheres are there in 1,022 torr?

    Answer

    1.345 atm

    Example \(\PageIndex{2}\): Mars

     

    Example \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    The atmosphere on Mars is largely CO2 at a pressure of 6.01 mmHg. What is this pressure in atmospheres?

    Steps for Problem Solving

    Unit Conversion

    Identify the "given” information and what the problem is asking you to "find."

    Given: 6.01mmHg

    Find: ?atm

    List other known quantities.

    1 atm = 760 mmHg

    Prepare a concept map.

    Cancel units and calculate.

    \(6.01\, \cancel{mmHg}\times \frac{1\, atm}{760\, \cancel{mmHg}}=0.00791\, atm=7.91\times 10^{-3}atm\)

    Think about your result.

    6.01 is a very small number relative to 760 mmHg just like the value in atmospheres.

     

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    Atmospheric pressure is low in the eye of a hurricane. In a 1979 hurricane in the Pacific Ocean, a pressure of 0.859 atm was reported inside the eye. What is this pressure in torr?

    Answer

    652 torr

    Summary

    • Pressure is a force exerted over an area.
    • Pressure has several common units that can be converted.

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