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Chemical Kinetics

Chemistry is, by its very nature, concerned with change. Chemical reactions convert substances with well-defined properties into other materials with different properties. Much of our study of chemical reactions is concerned with the formation of new substances from a given set of reactants. However, it is equally important to understand how rapidly chemical reactions occur. The rates of reactions span an enormous range, from those that are complete within fractions of seconds, such as certain explosions, to those that take thousands or even millions of years, such as the formation of diamonds or other minerals in Earth’s crust (Figure 14.1).

The area of chemistry that is concerned with the speeds, or rates, of reactions is called chemical kinetics. Chemical kinetics is a subject of broad importance. It relates, for example, to how quickly a medicine is able to work, to whether the formation and depletion of ozone in the upper atmosphere are in balance, and to industrial problems such as the development of catalysts to synthesize new materials. Our goal in this chapter is not only to understand how to determine the rates at which reactions occur, but also to consider the factors that control these rates. For example, what factors determine how rapidly food spoils? How does one design a fast-setting material for dental fillings? What determines the rate at which steel rusts? What controls the rate at which fuel burns in an automobile engine? Although we won’t address these specific questions directly, we will see that the rates of all chemical reactions are subject to the same basic principles.

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