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Intermolecular Forces

Skills to develop

Intermolecular Forces

Forces binding atoms in a molecule are due to chemical bonding. The energy required to break a bond is called the bond-energy. For example the average bond-energy for O-H bonds in water is 463 kJ/mol. On average, 463 kJ is required to break 6.023x1023 O-H bonds, or 926 kJ to convert 1.0 mole of water into 1.0 mol of O and 2.0 mol of H atoms. A space filling model of water molecule is shown here.

The forces holding molecules together are generally called intermolecular forces. The energy required to break molecules apart is much smaller than a typical bond-energy, but intermolecular forces play important roles in determining the properties of a substances. Intermolecular forces are particularly important in terms how molecules interact and form biological organisms or even life. This link gives an excellent introduction to the interactions between molecules.

Classifying Intermolecular Forces

In general, intermolecular forces can be divided into several categories. The four prominent types are:
  1. Strong ionic attraction
    Recall lattice energy and its relations to properties of solid. The more ionic, the higher the lattice energy. Examine the following list and see if you can explain the observed values by way of ionic attraction:
    LiF, 1036; LiI, 737; KF, 821; MgF2, 2957 kJ/mol.
  2. Intermediate dipole-dipole forces
    Substances whose molecules have dipole moment have higher melting point or boiling point than those of similar molecular mass, but their molecules have no dipole moment.
  3. Weak London dispersion forces or van der Waal's force These forces alway operate in any substance. The force arisen from induced dipole and the interaction is weaker than the dipole-dipole interaction. In general, the heavier the molecule, the stronger the van der Waal's force of interaction. For example, the boiling points of inert gases increase as their atomic masses increases due to stronger Landon dispersion interactions.
  4. Hydrogen bond
    Certain substances such as H2O, HF, NH3 form hydrogen bonds, and the formation of which affects properties (mp, bp, solubility) of substance. Other compounds containing OH and NH2 groups also form hydrogen bonds. Molecules of many organic compounds such as alcohols, acids, amines, and aminoacids contain these groups, and thus hydrogen bonding plays a important role in biological science.
  5. Covalent bonding
    Covalent is really intramolecular force rather than intermolecular force. It is mentioned here, because some solids are formed due to covalent bonding. For example, in diamond, silicon, quartz etc., the all atoms in the entire crystal are linked together by covalent bonding. These solids are hard, brittle, and have high melting points. Covalent bonding holds atoms tighter than ionic attraction.
  6. Metallic bonding
    Forces between atom in metallic solids belong to another category. Valence electrons in metals are rampant. They are not restricted to certain atoms or bonds. Rather they run freely in the entire solid, providing good conductivity for heat and electric energy. These behaviour of electrons give special properties such as ductility and mechanical strength to metals.

The division into types is for convenience in their discussion. Of course all types can be present simultaneously for many substances. Usually, intermolecular forces are discussed together with The States of Matter, which is linked to a well illustrated web-site.

Intermolecular forces also play important roles in solutions, a discussion of which is given in Hydration, solvation in water. A summary of the interactions is illustrated in the following diagram:

See if you can answer the following questions.

If you are looking for specific information, your study will be efficient. Some answers can be found in the Confidence Building Questions. Consider carefully the purpose of each question, and figure out what is there to be learned in it.

Confidence Building Questions

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