What is Physical Chemistry? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Is Physical Chemistry?
  • 2:05 A Day in the Life of a…
  • 2:59 Examples of Physical Chemistry
  • 4:28 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

Are you interested in learning about a fascinating field of science that blends principles of physics and chemistry? In this lesson, you'll learn about physical chemistry and look at some examples of the type of work physical chemists do.

What Is Physical Chemistry?

If we look around us, chemical reactions are taking place everywhere. When we strike a match to light our grills, a chemical reaction occurs. If we mix milk with baking powder in our favorite recipe, a reaction happens.

Why do some reactions create heat? How is it that certain reactions proceed fast while others move very slow? All of these questions and more can be solved within the field of physical chemistry.

Physical chemistry blends the principles of physics and chemistry to study the physical characteristics, or properties, of molecules. By understanding these properties, you learn more about the way in which molecules are put together, as well as how the actual structure of a chemical is impacted by these properties. How do we put molecules together? Well, they can be made, or synthesized, by a chemical reaction.

Within the field of physical chemistry, we can investigate how molecules or atoms combine to form particular molecules. We can also learn about the different properties of matter, such as why a compound burns or about its ability to convert from a liquid to solid substance. Undoubtedly, this field is very important in the world of science, especially as it paves the way for the discovery of new theories.

Theories are proposed explanations of what may be occurring in our world using scientific methods. For example, a theory may attempt to explain why certain atoms in a molecule behave a certain way. In addition to this primary purpose, physical chemistry offers many branches within the field that have their own unique purposes. Let's go over a few:

  • Electrochemistry is a branch of physical chemistry that asks how do atoms, electrons, and ions mingle in an electrical current?
  • Photochemistry asks what happens when you use light in a chemical reaction?
  • Thermochemistry asks why did this chemical reaction produce heat?
  • Spectroscopy asks what happens to matter that emits radiation?
  • Chemical kinetics asks how fast a chemical reaction went.

A Day in the Life of a Physical Chemist

Are you interested in learning about the many ways a material can be used? Have you ever questioned why an atom displays a particular set of physical properties? These are just a couple of the many questions and mysteries a physical chemist may be asked to solve. As a physical chemist, you may be asked to explore more environmentally friendly ways to manufacture petroleum using nanotechnology, or you might investigate the different rules needed to test the chemical properties of arsenic, including its color and luster.

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