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Introduction and Summary

Solutions, especially liquid solutions, generally have markedly different properties than either the pure solvent or the solute. For example, a solution of sugar in water is neither crystalline like sugar nor tasteless like water. Some of the properties unique to solutions depend only on the number of dissolved particles and not their identity. Such properties are called colligative properties. The colligative properties we will consider in this SparkNote are vapor pressure lowering, freezing point depression, boiling point elevation, and osmotic pressure.

When a nonvolatile solute is dissolved in a solvent, the vapor pressure of the resulting solution is lower than that of the pure solvent. The amount of the vapor pressure lowering is proportional to the amount of solute and not its identity. Therefore, vapor pressure lowering is a colligative property. The equation that describes that phenomenon is called Raoult's law.

Boiling point elevation is a colligative property related to vapor pressure lowering. The boiling point is defined as the temperature at which the vapor pressure of a liquid equals the atmospheric pressure. Due to vapor pressure lowering, a solution will require a higher temperature to reach its boiling point than the pure solvent.

Every liquid has a freezing point--the temperature at which a liquid undergoes a phase change from liquid to solid. When solutes are added to a liquid, forming a solution, the solute molecules disrupt the formation of crystals of the solvent. That disruption in the freezing process results in a depression of the freezing point for the solution relative to the pure solvent.

When a solution is separated from a volume of pure solvent by a semi-permeable membrane that allows only the passage of solvent molecules, the height of the solution begins to rise. The value of the height difference between the two compartments reflects a property called the osmotic pressure of a solution. As you know, if you add more solvent to a solution, the two mix together to form a more dilute solution. The same forces allowing that mixing serve to force solvent molecules from the pure solvent compartment across the membrane into the solution compartment causing the change in volume. The amount of osmotic pressure is directly related to the concentration of the solute. That is because more concentrated the solutions have greater potentials for dilution.

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