A solution forms when two or more substances combine physically to yield a mixture that is homogeneous at the molecular level. The solvent is the most concentrated component and determines the physical state of the solution. The solutes are the other components typically present at concentrations less than that of the solvent. Solutions may form endothermically or exothermically, depending upon the relative magnitudes of solute and solvent intermolecular attractive forces. Ideal solutions form with no appreciable change in energy.
Substances that dissolve in water to yield ions are called electrolytes. Electrolytes may be covalent compounds that chemically react with water to produce ions (for example, acids and bases), or they may be ionic compounds that dissociate to yield their constituent cations and anions, when dissolved. Dissolution of an ionic compound is facilitated by ion-dipole attractions between the ions of the compound and the polar water molecules. Soluble ionic substances and strong acids ionize completely and are strong electrolytes, while weak acids and bases ionize to only a small extent and are weak electrolytes. Nonelectrolytes are substances that do not produce ions when dissolved in water.
The extent to which one substance will dissolve in another is determined by several factors, including the types and relative strengths of intermolecular attractive forces that may exist between the substances’ atoms, ions, or molecules. This tendency to dissolve is quantified as a substance’s solubility, its maximum concentration in a solution at equilibrium under specified conditions. A saturated solution contains solute at a concentration equal to its solubility. A supersaturated solution is one in which a solute’s concentration exceeds its solubility—a nonequilibrium (unstable) condition that will result in solute precipitation when the solution is appropriately perturbed. Miscible liquids are soluble in all proportions, and immiscible liquids exhibit very low mutual solubility. Solubilities for gaseous solutes decrease with increasing temperature, while those for most, but not all, solid solutes increase with temperature. The concentration of a gaseous solute in a solution is proportional to the partial pressure of the gas to which the solution is exposed, a relation known as Henry’s law.
Properties of a solution that depend only on the concentration of solute particles are called colligative properties. They include changes in the vapor pressure, boiling point, and freezing point of the solvent in the solution. The magnitudes of these properties depend only on the total concentration of solute particles in solution, not on the type of particles. The total concentration of solute particles in a solution also determines its osmotic pressure. This is the pressure that must be applied to the solution to prevent diffusion of molecules of pure solvent through a semipermeable membrane into the solution. Ionic compounds may not completely dissociate in solution due to activity effects, in which case observed colligative effects may be less than predicted.
Colloids are mixtures in which one or more substances are dispersed as relatively large solid particles or liquid droplets throughout a solid, liquid, or gaseous medium. The particles of a colloid remain dispersed and do not settle due to gravity, and they are often electrically charged. Colloids are widespread in nature and are involved in many technological applications.