Physical chemistry is the study of macroscopic, atomic, subatomic, and particulate phenomena in chemical systems in terms of physical laws and concepts. It applies the principles, practices and concepts of physics such as motion, energy, force, time, thermodynamics, quantum chemistry, statistical mechanics and dynamics.
Physical chemistry, in contrast to chemical physics, is predominantly (but not always) a macroscopic or supra-molecular science, as the majority of the principles on which physical chemistry was founded are concepts related to the bulk rather than on molecular/atomic structure alone; for example, chemical equilibrium, colloids.
Some of the relationships that physical chemistry strives to resolve include the effects of:
The term "physical chemistry" was first introduced by Mikhail Lomonosov in 1752, when he presented a lecture course entitled "A Course in True Physical Chemistry" (Russian: «Курс истинной физической химии») before the students of Petersburg University.
Modern physical chemistry originated in the 1860s to 1880s with work on chemical thermodynamics, electrolytes in solutions, chemical kinetics and other subjects. One milestone was the publication in 1876 by Josiah Willard Gibbs of his paper, On the Equilibrium of Heterogeneous Substances. This paper introduced several of the cornerstones of physical chemistry, such as Gibbs energy, chemical potentials, Gibbs phase rule . Other milestones include the subsequent naming and accreditation of enthalpy to Heike Kamerlingh Onnes and to macromolecular processes.
The first scientific journal specifically in the field of physical chemistry was the German journal, Zeitschrift für Physikalische Chemie, founded in 1887 by Wilhelm Ostwald and Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff. Together with Svante August Arrhenius., these were the leading figures in physical chemistry in the late 19th century and early 20th century. All three were awarded with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry between 1901-1909.
Developments in the following decades include the application of statistical mechanics to chemical systems and work on colloids and surface chemistry, where Irving Langmuir made many contributions. Another important step was the development of quantum mechanics into quantum chemistry from the 1930s, where Linus Pauling was one of the leading names. Theoretical developments have gone hand in hand with developments in experimental methods, where the use of different forms of spectroscopy, such as infrared spectroscopy, microwave spectroscopy, EPR spectroscopy and NMR spectroscopy, is probably the most important 20th century development.
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