Chemical Kinetics: Studying the Speed of Reactions and Factors Affecting Reaction Rates

Chemical reactions are the movement and collision of reactants to form a product. It is one of the fundamentals of chemistry. But what determines the rate or speed at which chemical changes occur? The answer to that is ‘Chemical Kinetics’. It is derived from the Greek

phrase ‘kinesis,’ meaning ‘movement’. The study is one fascinating branch of physical chemistry that educates us on the speed of chemical changes. It also teaches us about chemical change/effect mechanisms and the influence of vivid factors like concentration and catalysts on the rate of change, pressure, and temperature! The study relates to several facets of engineering, cosmology, geology, biology, psychology, and other far-reaching implications.

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Classifications Based on Reaction Speed

A chemical change can happen at differing rates. Per their speed/rate, such changes can be segregated into 3 types.

  1. Very Fast/Instantaneous– It occurs immediately when the reactant comes in contact. They usually involve ionic species, ranging from 10 -14 to 10 -16 seconds on completion. 

Refer Examples 

  • HCl + NaOH → NaCl + H2O (salt formation when acid and base combine)
  • NaHCO3 + CH3COOH → CO2 + H2O + Na+ (when baking soda and vinegar combine to form carbon dioxide gas)

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  1. Moderate Here, the chemical interactions happen at a moderate speed, making measuring them easier. 

Refer Examples –

  • 6CO2 + 6H2O + light energy → C6H12O6 (glucose) + 6O2 (process of producing photosynthesis in plants)
  • C6H12O6 (glucose) + 6O2 → 6CO2 + 6H2O + energy (the process of glucose breakdown within the human body to generate energy)
  1. Very Slow– Here, the process is very slow. It can even take months for the measurable effect to happen at normal/room temperature.

For Instance –

  • The method of forming diamonds from carbon existing in extreme pressure and heat and taking millions of years. 
  • Rusting process in iron components when exposed to water and air.

Factors Affecting Reaction Rates

  • Temperature

Whenever the temperature rises, the effect rate and the reactants’ energy increase. This causes more collisions at increased speed.

  • Concentration of Reactants 

The reaction rate is directly proportional to the reactants’ concentration. Whenever the reaction progresses, the reactant’s concentration reduces, causing a decrease in the reaction speed. In gas substances, increasing pressure causes an increased reaction rate. 

  • Reactants’ Nature 

The nature of the reactant also plays a role in influencing reaction speed. The commonest example is gas occurring quicker than solids, mainly due to more movement in gas molecules. 

  • Existence of Catalyst 

The presence of a catalyst also increases the interaction rate without being consumed or altered chemically. It often provides an alternative reaction pathway with a decreased activation energy.

  • Surface Area 

Whenever there is an increase in the reactants’ surface area, it can cause the chemical change rate to increase. The reason is that the larger surface area presents more scope for the reactant to collide and react. 

  • Radiation Exposure 

Some chemical changes, also called photochemical reactions, are influenced by the presence of light. The light energy helps break down the bonds in the reacting molecules, thus enabling them to reach and form the product.

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Christopher Stern

Christopher Stern is a Washington-based reporter. Chris spent many years covering tech policy as a business reporter for renowned publications. He has extensive experience covering Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commissions. He is a graduate of Middlebury College. Email:[email protected]

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