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Vapors of hydrogen chloride in a beaker and ammonia in a test tube meet to form a cloud of a new substance, ammonium chloride

A chemical reaction is a process that leads to the transformation of one set of chemical substances to another.[1] Chemical reactions are studied by chemists under a field of science called chemistry. Chemical reactions can be either spontaneous, requiring no input of energy, or non-spontaneous, often coming about only after the input of some type of energy, viz. heat, light or electricity. Classically, chemical reactions encompass changes that strictly involve the motion of electrons in the forming and breaking of chemical bonds, although the general concept of a chemical reaction, in particular the notion of a chemical equation, is applicable to transformations of elementary particles, as well as nuclear reactions.

The substance/substances initially involved in a chemical reaction are called reactants. Chemical reactions are usually characterized by a chemical change, and they yield one or more products, which usually have properties different from the reactants.

Different chemical reactions are used in combination in chemical synthesis in order to get a desired product. In biochemistry, series of chemical reactions catalyzed by enzymes form metabolic pathways, by which syntheses and decompositions ordinarily impossible in conditions within a cell are performed.


Reaction types

The common kinds of reactions include:

N2 + 3 H2 → 2 NH3
2 H2O → 2 H2 + O2
2 Na(s) + 2 HCl(aq) → 2 NaCl(aq) + H2(g)
  • Metathesis or Double displacement reaction, in which two compounds exchange ions or bonds to form different compounds:
NaCl(aq) + AgNO3(aq) → NaNO3(aq) + AgCl(s)
  • Acid-base reactions, broadly characterized as reactions between an acid and a base, can have different definitions depending on the acid-base concept employed. Some of the most common are:
    • Arrhenius definition: Acids dissociate in water releasing H3O+ ions; bases dissociate in water releasing OH- ions.
    • Brønsted-Lowry definition: Acids are proton (H+) donors; bases are proton acceptors. Includes the Arrhenius definition.
    • Lewis definition: Acids are electron-pair acceptors; bases are electron-pair donors. Includes the Brønsted-Lowry definition.
  • Redox reactions, in which changes in oxidation numbers of atoms in involved species occur. Those reactions can often be interpreted as transferences of electrons between different molecular sites or species. An example of a redox reaction is:
2 S2O32−(aq) + I2(aq) → S4O62−(aq) + 2 I(aq)
In which I2 is reduced to I- and S2O32- (thiosulfate anion) is oxidized to S4O62-.
  • Combustion, a kind of redox reaction in which any combustible substance combines with an oxidizing element, usually oxygen, to generate heat and form oxidized products. The term combustion is usually used for only large-scale oxidation of whole molecules, i.e. a controlled oxidation of a single functional group is not combustion.
C10H8+ 12 O2 → 10 CO2 + 4 H2O
CH2S + 6 F2CF4 + 2 HF + SF6
  • Disproportionation with one reactant forming two distinct products varying in oxidation state.
2 Sn2+ → Sn + Sn4+

Organic reactions encompass a wide assortment of reactions involving compounds which have carbon as the main element in their molecular structure. The reactions in which an organic compound may take part are largely defined by its functional groups.

Chemical kinetics

The rate of a chemical reaction is a measure of how the concentration or pressure of the involved substances changes with time. Analysis of reaction rates is important for several applications, such as in chemical engineering or in chemical equilibrium study. Rates of reaction depends basically on:

  • Reactant concentrations, which usually make the reaction happen at a faster rate if raised through increased collisions per unit time,
  • Surface area available for contact between the reactants, in particular solid ones in heterogeneous systems. Larger surface area leads to higher reaction rates.
  • Pressure, by increasing the pressure, you decrease the volume between molecules. This will increase the frequency of collisions of molecules.
  • Activation energy, which is defined as the amount of energy required to make the reaction start and carry on spontaneously. Higher activation energy implies that the reactants need more energy to start than a reaction with a lower activation energy.
  • Temperature, which hastens reactions if raised, since higher temperature increases the energy of the molecules, creating more collisions per unit time,
  • The presence or absence of a catalyst. Catalysts are substances which change the pathway (mechanism) of a reaction which in turn increases the speed of a reaction by lowering the activation energy needed for the reaction to take place. A catalyst is not destroyed or changed during a reaction, so it can be used again.
  • For some reactions, the presence of electromagnetic radiation, most notably ultraviolet, is needed to promote the breaking of bonds to start the reaction. This is particularly true for reactions involving radicals.

Reaction rates are related to the concentrations of substances involved in reactions, as quantified by the rate law of each reaction. Note that some reactions have rates that are independent of reactant concentrations. These are called zero order reactions.

Reactions and Energy

Chemical energy is part of all chemical reactions. Energy is needed to break chemical bonds in the starting substances. As new bonds form in the final substances, energy is released. By comparing the chemical energy of the original substances with the chemical energy of the final substances, you can decide if energy is released or absorbed in the overall reaction.

Exothermic Reactions

A chemical reaction in which energy is released is called an exothermic reaction. Exo means "go out" or "exit." Thermic means "heat" or "energy." Exothermic reactions can give off energy in several forms. If heat is released in an exothermic reaction, the nearby matter will become warmer. The nearby matter absorbs the heat released by the reaction. The reaction between gasoline and oxygen in a car's engine is an exothermic reaction.

See also

Further reading

  • Is This Reaction a Substitution, Oxidation-Reduction, or Transfer? / N.S.Imyanitov. J. Chem. Educ. 1993, 70(1), 14 – 16.



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Up to date as of January 14, 2010

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