Are You a Tortoise or a Hare?

Are you quick to react? Once you start, is it over and done or do you go on and on? Those of you with even minimal social skills (a fair question given your choice of reading) know that our reactions depend on two factors: energy and the situation.

Molecules need Activation Energy to start a reaction and if their bonds are weak they need very little. However, if the bonds are strong and the Activation Energy is too high, increasing the temperature or adding a catalyst will get things going. Catalysts provide an alternate chemical route that requires less energy, like those facilitators that get everyone else in the room talking, without becoming consumed in the reaction.

Once a chemical reaction starts, molecules mill around for a while in what is called the Transition State and they may even form some intermediate compounds. Molecules need to bump into each other to react, so increasing the temperature, concentration, and surface area all increase the likelihood of of contact and reaction. This is described by the Theory of Kinetics and Open Office Design. Fortunately, unlike workplace interactions, chemical reaction rates can be described mathematically.

Six factors affect the overall reaction rate: temperature, concentration, collision angle of molecules, frequency of collision, and the nature of the reactants. This set of variables makes for a complicated situation which was elegantly described by Svante Arrhenius in 1889.

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K is the rate constant, A is the prefactor which describes the orientation of the molecular collisions, T is the absolute temperature at which the reaction is taking place, Ea is the activation energy, and R is the Universal gas constant. One simple expression accounts for every factor that governs every reaction.

Do your loved ones or workmates complain about your pace? Explain that it’s simply the product of your variables and invite them to experiment. Who knows what discoveries await.

Next Week: The Beginning of the End