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19.10: Mean free path and Mean free time

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Mean free path and Mean free time

19.10: Mean free path and Mean free time

Consider the gas molecules in a cylinder. They move in a random motion as they collide with each other and change speed and direction. The average of all the path lengths between collisions is known as the "mean free path."


The mean free path varies inversely with the density of the molecules because when there are more molecules inside a volume, they have a greater chance of colliding with each other, thus reducing the mean free path. Additionally, the mean free path is inversely related to the diameter of the molecules because if they were point masses, they would never collide. Thus, larger molecules are associated with a shorter mean free path.

The gas expands when the temperature increases under constant pressure; thus, the average distance between molecules and the mean free path increases. However, when the pressure is increased at a constant temperature, the gas compresses, leading to a decrease in the mean free path. The mean free path can be defined as the product of the average speed and the mean free time, where the mean free time is the average time between collisions.

Consider argon atoms with a molar mass of 39.9 g/mol moving randomly in a cylinder at a temperature of 273 K and a pressure of 1 atm. Taking the radius of an argon atom to be 1.70 × 10-10m, determine the mean free time for argon atoms.

To solve the problem, first identify the known and unknown quantities, and convert them into SI units.

Secondly, recall the RMS speed equation for gas molecules. By substituting the values, the RMS speed can be determined as follows:


Lastly, recall the mean free time equation. By substituting the values, the mean free time can be determined as follows:


Suggested Reading


Mean Free Path Mean Free Time Gas Molecules Collision Density Diameter Point Masses Temperature Pressure Expansion Compression Average Speed Argon Atoms Molar Mass Radius

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