physical chemistry

physical chemistry

physical chemistry, branch of science that combines the principles and methods of physics and chemistry. It provides a fundamental theoretical and experimental basis for all of chemistry, including organic, inorganic, and analytical chemistry. In addition, it is the foundation of chemical engineering. Topics of interest are chemical equilibrium, reaction rates, solutions, molecular weights, molecular structure, and the properties of gases, liquids, crystals, and colloids. Among other factors, the influence of temperature, pressure, electricity, light, concentration, and turbulence are considered. There are three principal approaches in physical chemistry: thermodynamics, involving large numbers of molecules in equilibrium; kinetics, involving chemical changes with time; and molecular structure, involving the electronic and atomic arrangements that follow from the quantum theory. The latter approach is primarily theoretical and provides an understanding of the chemical bonds which are responsible for the structure of all materials.

See I. N. Levine, Physical Chemistry (4th ed. 1995); G. M. Barrow, Physical Chemistry (6th ed. 1996); P. W. Atkins, Physical Chemistry (6th ed. 1997); D. A. McQuarrie and J. D. Simon, Physical Chemistry: A Molecular Approach (1997).

Physical chemistry, is the application of physics to macroscopic, microscopic, atomic, subatomic, and particulate phenomena in chemical systems within the field of chemistry traditionally using the principles, practices and concepts of thermodynamics, quantum chemistry, statistical mechanics and kinetics. It is mostly defined as a large field of chemistry, in which several sub-concepts are applied; the inclusion of quantum mechanics is used to illustrate the application of physical chemistry to atomic and particulate chemical interaction or experimentation.

Physical chemistry is mostly referred to as a macromolecular doctrine, as the majority of the principles on which physical chemistry was founded are composed entirely of macromolecular concepts, such as colloids.

The relationships that physical chemistry tries to resolve include the effects of:

  1. Intermolecular forces on the physical properties of materials (plasticity, tensile strength, surface tension in liquids).
  2. Reaction kinetics on the rate of a reaction.
  3. The identity of ions on the electrical conductivity of materials.


The term "physical chemistry" was probably first introduced by Mikhail Lomonosov in 1752, when he presented a lecture course entitled "A Course in True Physical Chemistry" (Russian: «Курс истинной физической химии») before the students of Petersburg University.

The foundation of modern physical chemistry is thought to have been laid in 1876 by Josiah Willard Gibbs after the publishing of his paper, On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances, which contained several of the cornerstones of physical chemistry, such as Gibbs energy, chemical potentials, Gibbs phase rule and subsequent naming and accreditation of enthalpy to Heike Kamerlingh Onnes and to macromolecular processes.

The first scientific journal for publications specifically in the field of physical chemistry was the German journal, Zeitschrift für physikalische Chemie, founded in 1887 by Wilhelm Ostwald and Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff.



  1. Levine, I. N. (1978). Physical Chemistry McGraw-Hill publishing ISBN 0-07-037418-X
  2. Atkins, P.W. (1978). Physical Chemistry Oxford University Press ISBN 0-7167-3539-X
  3. Berry, S. R., Rice, S. A, Ross, J. (2000). Physical Chemistry 2nd ed. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510589-3
  4. Hunter, R. J. (1993) Introduction to Modern Colloid Science Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-855386-2
  5. Hiemenz, P. C., Rajagopalan, R., (1997). Principles of Colloid and Surface Chemistry Marcel Dekker Inc., New York. ISBN 0-8247-9397-8
  6. Moore, W.J. (1963). Physical Chemistry 4th ed. Longman publishers/London/Prentice Hall, NJ.

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