In chemistry, concentration is the measure of how much of a given substance there is mixed with another substance. This can apply to any sort of chemical mixture, but most frequently the concept is limited to homogeneous solutions, where it refers to the amount of solute in a substance.
To concentrate a solution, one must add more solute, or reduce the amount of solvent (for instance, by selective evaporation). By contrast, to dilute a solution, one must add more solvent, or reduce the amount of solute.
Unless two substances are fully miscible there exists a concentration at which no further solute will dissolve in a solution. At this point, the solution is said to be saturated. If additional solute is added to a saturated solution, it will not dissolve (except in certain circumstances, when supersaturation may occur). Instead, phase separation will occur, leading to either coexisting phases or a suspension. The point of saturation depends on many variables such as ambient temperature and the precise chemical nature of the solvent and solute.
Analytical concentration includes all the forms of that substance in the solution.
Often in informal, non-technical language, concentration is described in a qualitative way, through the use of adjectives such as "dilute" or "weak" for solutions of relatively low concentration and of others like "concentrated" or "strong" for solutions of relatively high concentration. Those terms relate the amount of a substance in a mixture to the observable intensity of effects or properties caused by that substance. For example, a practical rule is that the more concentrated a chromatic solution is, the more intensely colored it is.
Unless otherwise stated, all the following measurements of volume are assumed to be at a standard state temperature and pressure (for example 25 degrees Celsius at 1 atmosphere or 101.325 kPa). The measurement of mass does not require such restrictions.
Mass can be determined at a precision of < 0.2 mg on a routine basis with an analytical balance and more precise instruments exist. Both solids and liquids are easily quantified by weighing.
The volume of a liquid is usually determined by calibrated glassware such as burettes and volumetric flasks. For very small volumes precision syringes are available. The use of graduated beakers and cylinders is not recommended as their indication of volume is mostly for decorative rather than quantitative purposes. The volume of solids, particularly of powders, is often difficult to measure, which is why mass is the more usual measure. For gases the opposite is true: the volume of a gas can be measured in a gas burette, if care is taken to control the pressure, but the mass is not easy to measure due to buoyancy effects.
Molarity (in units of mol/L, molar, or M) or molar concentration denotes the number of moles of a given substance per liter of solution. A capital letter M is used to abbreviate the units of mol/L. For instance:
Such a solution may be described as "0.50 molar." It must be emphasized that a 0.5 molar solution contains 0.5 moles of solute in 1.0 liter of solution. This is not equivalent to 1.0 liter of solvent. A 0.5 mol/L solution will contain either slightly more or slightly less than 1 liter of solvent because the process of dissolution causes the volume of the liquid to increase or decrease.
Following the SI system of units, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the United States authority on measurement, considers the term molarity and the unit symbol M to be obsolete, and suggests instead the amount-of-substance concentration (c) with units mol/m3 or other units used alongside the SI such as mol/L. This recommendation has not been universally implemented in academia or chemistry research yet.
Preparation of a solution of known molarity involves adding an accurately weighed amount of solute to a volumetric flask, adding some solvent to dissolve it, then adding more solvent to fill to the volume mark.
When discussing the molarity of minute concentrations, such as in pharmacological research, molarity is expressed in units of millimolar (mmol/L, mM, 1 thousandth of a molar), micromolar (μmol/L, μM, 1 millionth of a molar) or nanomolar (nmol/L, nM, 1 billionth of a molar).
Although molarity is by far the most commonly used measure of concentration, particularly for dilute aqueous solutions, it does suffer from a number of disadvantages. Masses can be determined with great precision as balances are often very precise. Determining volume is often not as precise. In addition, due to a thermal expansion, the molarity of a solution changes with temperature without adding or removing any mass. For non-dilute solutions another problem is that the molar volume of a substance is itself a function of concentration so that volume is not strictly additive.
Following the SI system of units, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the United States authority on measurement, considers the unit symbol m to be obsolete, and suggests instead the term 'molality of substance B' (mB) with units mol/kg or a related unit of the SI. This recommendation has not been universally implemented in academia yet.
Note that molality is sometimes represented by the symbol (m), while molarity by the symbol (M). The two symbols are not meant to be confused, and should not be used as symbols for units. The SI unit for molality is mol/kg. (The unit m means meter.)
Like other mass-based measures, the determination of molality only requires a good scale, because the masses of both solvent and solute can be obtained by weighing, and molality is independent of the physical conditions like temperature and pressure, providing advantages over molarity.
In a dilute aqueous solution near room temperature and standard atmospheric pressure, the molarity and molality will be very similar in value. This is because 1 kg of water roughly corresponds to a volume of 1 L at these conditions, and because the solution is dilute, the addition of the solute makes a negligible impact on the volume of the solution.
However, in all other conditions, this is usually not the case.
This measure is used very frequently in the construction of phase diagrams. It has a number of advantages:
As both mole fractions and molality are only based on the masses of the components it is easy to convert between these measures. This is not true for molarity, which requires knowledge of the density.
When the volume considered is a gas, a specific approach is needed: the gas' pressure and temperature conditions must be considered. A typical use is in air pollution emission quantification. It is very common to find values such as 50 g/Nm3 or 50 g/m3N. The "N" before or after the cubic meter indicates that the gas is under the Standard conditions for temperature and pressure.
Volume-volume percentage (sometimes referred to as percent volume per volume and abbreviated as % v/v) describes the volume of the solute in mL per 100 mL of the resulting solution. This is most useful when a liquid - liquid solution is being prepared, although it is used for mixtures of gases as well. For example, a 40% v/v ethanol solution contains 40 mL ethanol per 100 mL total volume. The percentages are only additive in the case of mixtures of ideal gases.
A normal is one gram equivalent of a solute per liter of solution. The definition of a gram equivalent varies depending on the type of chemical reaction that is discussed - it can refer to acids, bases, redox species, and ions that will precipitate.
It is critical to note that normality measures a single ion which takes part in an overall solute. For example, one could determine the normality of hydroxide or sodium in an aqueous solution of sodium hydroxide, but the normality of sodium hydroxide itself has no meaning. Nevertheless it is often used to describe solutions of acids or bases, in those cases it is implied that the normality refers to the H+ or OH− ion. For example, 2 Normal sulfuric acid (H2SO4), means that the normality of H+ ions is 2, or that the molarity of the sulfuric acid is 1. Similarly for 1 Molar H3PO4 the normality is 3 as it contains three H+ ions.
As ions in solution can react through different pathways, there are three common definitions for normality as a measure of reactive species in solution:
The measure of normality is extremely useful for titrations - given two species that are known to react with a known ratio, one simply needs to scale the volumes of solutions with known normalities to get a complete reaction with the following equation:
However, normality cannot reliably represent an unambiguous measure of the concentration of a solution. Since the measure of normality depends on the reaction that the solute participates in, the same concentration of solute can possess two different normalities for two different reactions. For example, Mg2+ is 2 N with respect to a Cl- ion, but it is only 1 N with respect to an O2- ion.
Accordingly, normality is no longer used to represent the concentration of a solution as such. Instead, a solution should be labeled according to its molarity, and it is then possible to calculate the normality for a particular titration using the equation above. NIST has also stipulated that this unit is obsolete and recommends discontinuing its use.
For example: if one dissolves sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) in a litre of water, the compound dissociates into the Na+ and CO32- ions. Some of the CO32- reacts with the water to form HCO3- and H2CO3. If the pH of the solution is low, there is practically no Na2CO3 left in the solution. So, although we have added 1 mol of Na2CO3 to the solution, it does not contain 1 M of that substance. (Rather, it contains a molarity based on the other constituents of the solution.) However, it was once said that such solutions contain 1 F of Na2CO3.
In atmospheric chemistry and in air pollution regulations, the parts per notation is commonly expressed with a v following, such as ppmv, to indicate parts per million by volume. This works fine for gas concentrations (e.g., ppmv of carbon dioxide in the ambient air) but, for concentrations of non-gaseous substances such as aerosols, cloud droplets, and particulate matter in the ambient air, the concentrations are commonly expressed as μg/m³ or mg/m³ (e.g., μg or mg of particulates per cubic metre of ambient air). This expression eliminates the need to take into account the impact of temperature and pressure on the density and hence weight of the gas.
The usage is generally quite fixed inside most specific branches of science, leading some researchers to believe that their own usage (mass/mass, volume/volume or others) is the only correct one. This, in turn, leads them not to specify their usage in their research, and others may therefore misinterpret their results. For example, electrochemists often use volume/volume, while chemical engineers may use mass/mass as well as volume/volume. Many academic papers of otherwise excellent level fail to specify their usage of the part-per notation. The difference between expressing concentrations as mass/mass or volume/volume is quite significant when dealing with gases and it is very important to specify which is being used. It is quite simple, for example, to distinguish ppm by volume from ppm by mass or weight by using ppmv or ppmw.
** Obsolete unit symbols.