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# THE COLLISION THEORY OF REACTION RATES

Introduction

These pages describe the collision theory of reaction rates. They cover collision theory,
and describe and explain the individual factors which affect the rate of a reaction that is
surface area, concentration, pressure, temperature and catalysts on reaction rates. The
first part concentrates on the key things which decide whether a particular collision will
result in a reaction - in particular, the energy of the collision, and whether or not the
molecules hit each other the right way around (the orientation of the collision).We are
going to look in detail at reactions which involve a collision between two species.

## Reactions involving collisions between two species

It is pretty obvious that if you have a situation involving two species they can only react
together if they come into contact with each other. They first have to collide, and then
they may react. Why "may react"? It isn't enough for the two species to collide - they
have to collide the right way around, and they have to collide with enough energy for
bonds to break.

## Consider a simple reaction involving a collision between two molecules - ethene,

CH2=CH2, and hydrogen chloride, HCl, for example. These react to give chloroethane.

As a result of the collision between the two molecules, the double bond between the two
carbons is converted into a single bond. A hydrogen atom gets attached to one of the
carbons and a chlorine atom to the other.

## The reaction can only happen if the hydrogen

end of the H-Cl bond approaches the carbon-
carbon double bond. Any other collision
between the two molecules doesn't work. The
two simply bounce off each other. Of the
collisions shown in the diagram, only collision 1
may possibly lead on to a reaction. You may
wonder why collision 2 won't work as well. The
double bond has a high concentration of
negative charge around it due to the electrons in
the bonds. The approaching chlorine atom is also
slightly negative because it is more
electronegative than hydrogen. The repulsion
simply causes the molecules to bounce off each
other. In any collision involving unsymmetrical species, you would expect that the way
they hit each other will be important in deciding whether or not a reaction happens.
The energy of the collision

Activation Energy

Even if the species are orientated properly, you still won't get a reaction unless the
particles collide with a certain minimum energy called the activation energy of the
reaction. Activation energy is the minimum energy required before a reaction can
occur. You can show this on an energy profile for the reaction. It looks like this:

The state of maximum energy of the system is called the activated complex or its
transition state. For a simple over-all exothermic reaction (the products are less
energetic than the reactants), energy is released as heat or eventually light. The
only difference if the reaction was endothermic would be the relative positions of the
reactants and products lines. For an endothermic change, the products would have
a higher energy than the reactants, and so the green arrow would be pointing
upwards. It makes no difference to the discussion about the activation energy.
If the particles collide with less energy than the activation energy, nothing important
happens. They bounce apart. You can think of the activation energy as a barrier to the
reaction. Only those collisions which have energies equal to or greater than the
activation energy result in a reaction.

## The Maxwell-Boltzmann Distribution

Because of the key role of activation energy in deciding whether a collision will result
in a reaction, it would obviously be useful to know what sort of proportion of the
particles present have high enough energies to react when they collide.

In any system, the particles present will have a very wide range of energies. For gases,
this can be shown on a graph called the Maxwell-Boltzmann Distribution which is a
plot of the number of particles having each particular energy.
The area under the curve is a measure of the total number of particles present. The
reason for this lies in some maths that you will learn at the end of this year. It is
important that you remember that the area under the curve gives a count of the number
of particles even if you don't understand why!

## The Maxwell-Boltzmann Distribution and activation energy

Remember that for a reaction to happen, particles must collide with energies equal to or
greater than the activation energy for the reaction. We can mark the activation energy
on the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution:

Notice that the large majority of the particles don't have enough energy to react when
they collide. To enable them to react we either have to change the shape of the curve, or
move the activation energy further to the left.
THE EFFECT OF SURFACE AREA ON REACTION RATES

## The facts: What happens?

The more finely divided the solid is, the faster the reaction happens. A powdered solid
will normally produce a faster reaction than if the same mass is present as a single lump.
The powdered solid has a greater surface area than the single lump.

Some examples

## Calcium carbonate and hydrochloric acid

In the lab, powdered calcium carbonate reacts much faster with dilute hydrochloric acid
than if the same mass was present as lumps of marble or limestone.

Catalytic converters

Catalytic converters use metals like platinum, palladium and rhodium to convert
poisonous compounds in vehicle exhausts into less harmful things. For example, a
reaction which removes both carbon monoxide and an oxide of nitrogen is:

Because the exhaust gases are only in contact with the catalyst for a very short time, the
reactions have to be very fast. The extremely expensive metals used as the catalyst are
coated as a very thin layer onto a ceramic honeycomb structure to maximise the surface
area.

The explanation

You are only going to get a reaction if the particles in the gas or liquid collide with the
particles in the solid. Increasing the surface area of the solid increases the chances of
collision taking place. Imagine a reaction between magnesium metal and a dilute acid
like hydrochloric acid. The reaction involves
collision between magnesium atoms and
hydrogen ions.

## Increasing the number of collisions per second

increases the rate of reaction.
THE EFFECT OF CONCENTRATION ON REACTION RATES

## The facts: What happens?

For many reactions involving liquids or gases, increasing the concentration of the
reactants increases the rate of reaction. In a few cases, increasing the concentration of
one of the reactants may have little noticeable effect of the rate. These cases are
discussed and explained further. Don't assume that if you double the concentration of
one of the reactants that you will double the rate of the reaction. It may happen like that,
but the relationship may well be more complicated.

Some examples

The examples on this page all involve solutions. Changing the concentration of a gas is
achieved by changing its pressure.

Zinc and hydrochloric acid: In the lab, zinc granules react fairly slowly with dilute
hydrochloric acid, but much faster if the acid is concentrated.

## The catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide: Solid manganese (IV) oxide is

often used as a catalyst in this reaction. Oxygen is given off much faster if the hydrogen
peroxide is concentrated than if it is dilute.

The explanation

## In order for any reaction to happen, particles must first

collide. This is true whether both particles are in
solution, or whether one is in solution and the other a
solid. If the concentration is higher, the chances of
collision are greater.

## If a reaction only involves a single particle splitting up

in some way, then the number of collisions is irrelevant.
What matters now is how many of the particles have
enough energy to react at any one time. Suppose that at
any one time 1 in a million particles have enough
energy to equal or exceed the activation energy. If you
had 100 million particles, 100 of them would react. If
you had 200 million particles in the same volume, 200
of them would now react. The rate of reaction has
doubled by doubling the concentration.
Cases where changing the concentration doesn't affect the rate of the reaction

At first glance this seems very surprising but in certain multi-step reactions in fact it is
so.

Suppose you have a reaction which happens in a series of small steps. These steps are
likely to have widely different rates - some fast, some slow.

For example, suppose two reactants A and B react together in these two stages:

The overall rate of the reaction is going to be governed by how fast A splits up to make
X and Y. This is described as the rate determining step of the reaction.

If you increase the concentration of A, you will increase the chances of this step
happening for reasons we've looked at above. If you increase the concentration of B,
that will undoubtedly speed up the second step, but that makes hardly any difference to
the overall rate. You can picture the second step as happening so fast already that as
soon as any X is formed, it is immediately pounced on by B. That second reaction is
already "waiting around" for the first one to happen.

## The facts: What happens?

Increasing the pressure on a reaction involving reacting gases increases the rate of
reaction. Changing the pressure on a reaction which involves only solids or liquids
has no effect on the rate.

An example

In the manufacture of ammonia by the Haber Process, the rate of reaction between the
hydrogen and the nitrogen is increased by the use of very high pressures.

In fact, the main reason for using high pressures is to improve the percentage of
ammonia in the equilibrium mixture, but there is a useful effect on rate of reaction as
well.

The explanation

## The relationship between pressure and concentration

Increasing the pressure of a gas is exactly the same as increasing its concentration. If
you have a given mass of gas, the way you increase its pressure is to squeeze it into a
smaller volume. If you have the same mass in a smaller volume, then its concentration
is higher. You can also show this relationship mathematically if you have come across
the ideal gas equation:

## Because "RT" is constant as long as the

temperature is constant, this shows that the pressure is
directly proportional to the concentration. If you
double one, you will also double the other.

## The effect of increasing the pressure on the rate of

reaction

The same argument applies whether the reaction involves collision between two
different particles or two of the same particle.

In order for any reaction to happen, those particles must first collide. This is true
whether both particles are in the gas state, or whether one is a gas and the other a solid.
If the pressure is higher, the chances of collision are greater.

## Reactions involving only one particle

Suppose that at any one time 1 in a million particles have enough energy to equal or
exceed the activation energy. If you had 100 million particles, 100 of them would react.
If you had 200 million particles in the same volume, 200 of them would now react. The
rate of reaction has doubled by doubling the pressure.

## As you increase the temperature the rate of reaction increases. As a rough

approximation, for many reactions happening at around room temperature, the rate of
reaction doubles for every 10°C rise in temperature. You have to be careful not to take
this too literally. It doesn't apply to all reactions. Even where it is approximately true, it
may be that the rate doubles every 9°C or 11°C or whatever. The number of degrees
needed to double the rate will also change gradually as the temperature increases.

Examples

## Some reactions are virtually instantaneous - for example, a precipitation reaction

involving the coming together of ions in solution to make an insoluble solid, or the
reaction between hydrogen ions from an acid and hydroxide ions from an alkali in
solution. So heating one of these won't make any noticeable difference to the rate of the
reaction. Almost any other reaction you care to name will happen faster if you heat it -
either in the lab, or in industry.

The explanation

## Increasing the collision frequency

Particles can only react when they collide. If you heat a substance, the particles move
faster and so collide more frequently. That will speed up the rate of reaction.

That seems a fairly straightforward explanation until you look at the numbers! It turns
out that the frequency of two-particle collisions in gases is proportional to the square
root of the Kelvin temperature. If you increase the temperature from 293 K to 303 K
you will increase the collision frequency by a factor of just 1.7% for a 10° rise. The rate
of reaction will probably have doubled for that increase in temperature - in other words,
an increase of about 100%. The effect of increasing collision frequency on the rate of
the reaction is very minor. The important effect is quite different.

## The key importance of activation energy

Collisions only result in a reaction if the particles collide with enough energy to get the
reaction started. This minimum energy required is called the activation energy for the
reaction. You can mark the position of activation energy on a Maxwell-Boltzmann
distribution to get a diagram like this:

Only those particles represented by the area to the right of the activation energy will
react when they collide. The great majority doesn't have enough energy, and will simply
bounce apart. To speed up the reaction, you need to increase the number of the very
energetic particles - those with energies equal to or greater than the activation energy.
Increasing the temperature has exactly that effect - it changes the shape of the graph.

In the next diagram, the graph labelled T is at the original temperature. The graph
labelled T+t is at a higher temperature.

If you now mark the position of the activation energy, you can see that although the
curve hasn't moved very much overall, there has been such a large increase in the
number of the very energetic particles that many more now collide with enough energy
to react.

Remember that the area under a curve gives a count of the number of particles. On the
last diagram, the area under the higher temperature curve to the right of the activation
energy looks to have at least doubled - therefore at least doubling the rate of the
reaction.

Summary

## Increasing the temperature increases reaction rates because of the disproportionately

large increase in the number of high energy collisions. It is only these collisions
(possessing at least the activation energy for the reaction) which result in a reaction.
THE EFFECT OF CATALYSTS ON REACTION RATES

## A catalyst is a substance which speeds up a reaction, but is chemically unchanged

at the end of the reaction. When the reaction has finished, you would have exactly the
same mass of catalyst as you had at the beginning.

Some examples

Some common examples which you may need for other parts of your syllabus include:

reaction catalyst

## Decomposition of hydrogen peroxide manganese(IV) oxide, MnO2

Conversion of SO2 into SO3 to make sulphuric acid vanadium(V) oxide, V2O5

The explanation

## The key importance of activation energy

Collisions only result in a reaction if the particles collide with enough energy to get the
reaction started. This minimum energy required is called the activation energy for the
reaction. You can mark the position of activation energy on a Maxwell-Boltzmann
distribution to get a diagram like this:
Only those particles represented by the area to the right of the activation energy will
react when they collide. The great majority doesn't have enough energy, and will simply
bounce apart.

## Catalysts and activation energy

To increase the rate of a reaction you need to increase the number of successful
collisions. One possible way of doing this is to provide an alternative way for the
reaction to happen which has a lower activation energy.

In other words, to move the activation energy on the graph this way:

Adding a catalyst has exactly this effect on activation energy. A catalyst provides an
alternative route for the reaction. That alternative route has a lower activation energy.
Showing this on an energy profile:
PROBLEMS ON REACTION RATES

## 1- The graph shows three curves for the

thermal self decomposition of
hydrogen peroxide.
a- Write a word and a balanced
equation for this reaction.
b- Why are transition metal
c- Which oxide seems to be most
effective?
d- When did the reaction
finished?
e- How should the curve for manganese (IV) oxide look if the temperature
were raised?
f- Sketch the three curves if instead of measuring the volume of oxygen
formed, the mass of the system was continuously recorded by setting the
open flask on a top balance.
g- This is an exothermic reaction. Sketch an energy-reaction course
diagram for the three experiments using the same pair of axes.

2- A similar experiment to the one with manganese (IV) oxide was carried out but
at a higher temperature. The data are shown in the table below.
Time (min) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
0
Vol. of gas (cm3) 4 6 9 10 11 12 12 120
0 0 5 2 7 5 0 0

## a- Plot the data.

b- Which point doesn’t fit properly with the rest of the set?
c- Which could be a reasonable value for it?
e- What will be the reading at time 9 minutes? Why?
f- How long did it take to 50 cm3 of oxygen to be produced?
g- Explain how and why the rate of reaction changed as it proceeded.

## 3- The figure shows diagrams for two

different reactions.
a- Are the reactions endo or
exothermic?
b- Is there any endothermic
process in the diagrams?
c- Name all labels from 1
through 8
d- Show the activation energies.
e- Mark the energy exchanged with the environment.
4- The reaction between hydrochloric acid and marble (calcium carbonate
essentially) was studied under different conditions.
Experiment Acid Size of marble Temperature
concentr.
A 5% Chips 20°C
B 10% Powder 60°C
C 10% Chips 20°C
D 5% Powder 60°C
a- Write the balanced equation for this reaction
b- Sketch two different apparatus, suitable for carrying out this experiment
c- Sketch the curves you would expect for each of the two apparatuses
d- Decide in which the reaction was the fastest and in which the slowest. Give
e- Which would you expect to be the third one? Are you 100% sure about your
choice?

## 5- The self decomposition of substance X is a relatively slow two step exothermic

reaction in which a gas is formed. The first step is the most difficult (rate
determining) step.
a- Sketch an “energy- reaction course” plot for it
b- Sketch a plot to show how the mass of the reactants changes during the
reaction if it is carried out in an open flask.
c- A small amount of nickel catalyses the reaction. Show the effect of
nickel in both graphs.
d- Label the axes for the graph shown.
e- Explain the three shadowed zones in the
sketch at the right of the page if they
refer to the reaction with and without the