Chemical affinity

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In chemical physics and physical chemistry, chemical affinity is the electronic property by which dissimilar chemical species are capable of forming chemical compounds.[1] Chemical affinity can also refer to the tendency of an atom or compound to combine by chemical reaction with atoms or compounds of unlike composition.

According to chemistry historian Henry Leicester, the influential 1923 textbook Thermodynamics and the Free Energy of Chemical Reactions by Gilbert N. Lewis and Merle Randall led to the replacement of the term "affinity" by the term "free energy" in much of the English-speaking world.


Modern conceptions

In modern terms, we relate affinity to the phenomenon whereby certain atoms or molecules have the tendency to aggregate or bond. For example, in the 1919 book Chemistry of Human Life physician George W. Carey states that, "Health depends on a proper amount of iron phosphate Fe3(PO4)2 in the blood, for the molecules of this salt have chemical affinity for oxygen and carry it to all parts of the organism." In this antiquated context, chemical affinity is sometimes found synonymous with the term "magnetic attraction". Many writings, up until about 1925, also refer to a "law of chemical affinity".


In 1923, the Belgian mathematician and physicist Théophile de Donder derived a relation between affinity A and the Gibbs free energy G of a chemical reaction. Through a series of derivations, de Donder showed that if we consider a mixture of chemical species with the possibility of chemical reaction, it can be proven that the following relation holds:

With the writings of Théophile de Donder as precedent, Ilya Prigogine and Defay in Chemical Thermodynamics (1954) defined chemical affinity (denoted by A) as a function of the increments in uncompensated heat of reaction and reaction progress variable (denoted by dQ' and , respectively):

This definition is useful for quantifying the factors responsible both for the state of equilibrium systems (where A = 0), and for changes of state of non-equilibrium systems (where A ≠ 0).

The present IUPAC definition is that affinity is the negative partial derivative of Gibbs energy with respect to extent of reaction at constant pressure and temperature.[2] That is,

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