Physical Properties of Organic Compounds

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  • 0:01 What Is a Physical Property?
  • 2:08 Boiling and Melting Point
  • 3:14 Solubility
  • 4:32 Odor
  • 4:56 Density
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

A wide variety of organic compounds exist. The ability to learn about a compound by knowing its physical property is very useful. Explore what a physical property is and the different types for organic compounds.

What Is a Physical Property?

If you run into an old friend there are a few physical characteristics that may jog your memory about who that person is and how you know them. Perhaps it may be their face or distinct voice. It could be the style of their hair. Just as we use different characteristics to jog our memories about people, we can use a similar approach when learning about organic compounds. In chemistry, we can refer to these characteristics as physical properties.

A physical property is a property that does not affect the chemical identity of a compound. They range from the odor and appearance of a compound to its density and color. Physical properties can be observed and measured without changing a compound's composition of matter. Matter refers to any substance that has a mass and can occupy space. There are three different physical states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas.

Solids are known to be organic compounds that have a defined shape and volume. Liquids have a less defined shape and volume, whereas gases have an indefinite shape. A compound's physical state of matter can be related to its physical property. Let's take our pal iodine as an example.

Iodine can change states from a solid to gas. When it does so, a color change will take place. This observation of a color change is a physical property of iodine. Keep in mind that the color change did not alter the composition of iodine. Rather, it was observed and used to indicate the physical state of iodine.

Just as we can use physical properties to identify different states of matter, for an organic compound, we can also use these properties to learn more about its structure.

Boiling and Melting Point

Two very popular ways to identify an organic compound, or learn more about it, is to look at its melting point and boiling point. These physical properties are related to temperature. Melting point refers to the temperature at which a compound changes states from a solid to a liquid. Boiling point is the temperature at which a compound changes states from a liquid to gas.

As a rule of thumb, the higher the melting and/or boiling point, the stronger the intermolecular force for a given compound. An intermolecular force is the attraction or repulsion that is displayed between atoms. In this term the prefix, inter- stands for between. When squished to the word, 'molecular' you get the phrase, 'between molecules.' Thus, by knowing these physical properties you can learn more about the intermolecular forces that exist in an organic compound.


If we throw a tablespoon of salt into water what do you think will happen? Salt will eventually dissolve in water producing a salty solution. This process describes solubility. Solubility is the action of dissolving a substance in a solution. Solubility is a physical property of organic compounds because the chemical composition or nature of the compound does not change when dissolved in solution.

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