|IB syllabus > kinetics (hl) > 16.2|
16.2 - Reaction mechanism
16.2.1: Explain that reactions can occur in more than one step and that the slowest step determines the rate of the reactions (rate determining step).
Chemical reactions are processes in which new substances are formed. They can be represented by chemical equations in which the reactants are written on the left hand side and the products on the right, the two sides being joined by an arrow that indicates that change has taken place.
We are now familiar with the idea that all substances are made of particles, each compound having its own unique arrangement of atoms or ions within the compound. Logically, if new substances are formed in the course of a chemical reaction then a rearrangement of the fundamental atoms must have taken place.
Using the balanced equation, the situation seems fairly simple, but on studying the kinetics of a reaction it becomes apparent that even the most simple reaction actually involves several steps, moving from reactants to products. We call these different steps the mechanism of the reaction. They are the different stages in which particles collide to make intermediate or transition states, which then in turn either break down or collide further to give the final products.
The distinct stages that a reaction must pass through are called the 'mechanism' of the reaction.
The study of chemical kinetics aims to get information about the actual processes occurring during the course of the reaction, the mechanism. The intermediates, activated complexes and transition states can almost never be detected in the course of the reaction and so this branch of chemistry relies on analysis of the data obtained from experimentation, to provide evidence for the existence of a mechanism.
Kinetics is a purely experimental science - there are no theories that will allow a mechanism to be elucidated by consideration of the species taking part in the reaction.
Rate determining step
If a chemical reaction proceeds via several steps and one step is much slower than the others, then this slow step will have the effect of slowing everything else down. It' s like a traffic jam in road works during a journey. The stage of the journey through the road works has a much greater influence on the journey time than the other (faster) stages.
When we study the rate of a reaction we are really studying the rate of the rate determining step of the reaction. It is the slowest step that we are examining, because the fast steps happen too quickly and have little or no overall effect on the rate.
Hence, any data we obtain by experiment must be related to the rate determining (slowest) step.
We call the slowest step of a mechanism the 'rate determining' step, as it has the greatest effect on the overall rate of the reaction.
We can only measure the rate of the reaction under study in terms of the actual reactants and products and so any mechanistic steps must be found by indirect means. This is done by analysing the data obtained from the rate experiments.
The data obtained from a series of kinetics experiments allows us to solve the rate expression for the orders of reaction with respect to the reactants A and B
Rate = k [A]x[B]y
These orders, X and Y, give evidence about the number of particles involved in the rate determining step of the reaction. We call the total number of particles involved in this step the 'molecularity'.
16.2.2: Describe the relationship between reaction mechanism, order of reaction and rate-determining step. Only examples to one- or two-step reactions where the mechanism is given will be assessed. TOK: Agreement between rate equations and a suggested mechanism only provides evidence to support a reaction mechanism. Disagreement disproves the mechanism.
Analysing experimental data
The aim of any series of kinetics experiments is to determine the values of the components of the rate expression:
Rate = k [A]x[B]y
and to use this information to work out the mechanism of the reaction. Further analysis at different temperatures can also lead to information regarding the activation energy of the process.
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