We introduced the concept of equilibrium in Chapter 11, where you learned that a liquid and a vapor are in equilibrium when the number of molecules evaporating from the surface of the liquid per unit time is the same as the number of molecules condensing from the vapor phase. Vapor pressure is an example of a physical equilibrium because only the physical form of the substance changes. Similarly, in Chapter 13, we discussed saturated solutions, another example of a physical equilibrium, in which the rate of dissolution of a solute is the same as the rate at which it crystallizes from solution.
In this chapter, we describe the methods chemists use to quantitatively describe the composition of chemical systems at equilibrium, and we discuss how factors such as temperature and pressure influence the equilibrium composition. As you study these concepts, you will also learn how urban smog forms and how reaction conditions can be altered to produce H2 rather than the combustion products CO2 and H2O from the methane in natural gas. You will discover how to control the composition of the gases emitted in automobile exhaust and how synthetic polymers such as the polyacrylonitrile used in sweaters and carpets are produced on an industrial scale.