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What is Sublimation in Chemistry? - Definition, Process & Examples

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  • 0:00 What is Sublimation?
  • 0:54 How Sublimation Works
  • 2:13 Examples of Sublimation
  • 2:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sheila Morrissey

Sheila has a master's degree in geology and has taught middle school through university-level science courses.

Learn about the sublimation phase transition from a solid state of matter to a gaseous state of matter. You will know what sublimation means, how it works, and some common examples of sublimation.

What is Sublimation?

Fill your ice cube trays with water, place them in the freezer, and the next day, you will have ice cubes formed through a process called freezing. If you drop those ice cubes on the floor, soon they will have melted into a puddle of water. Freezing and melting are two common phase transitions, or changes in the states of matter to or from solid, liquid, gas, or plasma.

Sublimation is another one of these phase transitions; except in this case, we have a solid turning directly into a gas. As a sublimating material changes from a solid to a gas, it never passes through the liquid state. This image shows water in its three forms: ice, water, and steam. Sublimation is just one of the ways water or another substance can change between its potential phases.

How Sublimation Works

Substances such as water and carbon dioxide (CO2) can be charted on a pressure versus temperature plot to reveal their state of matter (solid, liquid, or gas) at a given temperature and pressure. At a typical atmospheric pressure, we know that water is a solid at temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius, a liquid from 0 to 100 degrees Celsius, and a gas at higher temperatures. Atmospheric pressure, however, can change, particularly with altitude. Higher altitudes yield lower atmospheric pressures.

Water phase changes
Graph of water phase changes

As shown on this graph, we can experimentally observe that water doesn't always change phase at the same temperatures. For instance, with lower pressures, liquid water changes to a gas at temperatures lower than 100 degrees Celsius. If the pressure is dropped low enough, water reaches what's known as a triple point, the pressure and temperature at which a substance can exist in solid, liquid, and gaseous forms. Below the triple point, solid water sublimates, changing directly into a gas with a temperature increase, and never passing through the liquid phase. CO2 has a triple point at a pressure higher than 1 atmospheric pressure, meaning that at Earth's standard atmospheric pressure, CO2 will sublimate as it heats from a solid to a gas.

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