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change of a liquid into vapor at any temperature below its boiling point. For example, water, when
placed in a shallow open container exposed to air, gradually disappears, evaporating at a rate that
depends on the amount of surface exposed, the humidity of the air, and the temperature. Evaporation
occurs because among the molecules near the surface of the liquid there are always some with
enough heat energy to overcome the cohesion of their neighbors and escape (see adhesion and
cohesion; matter). At higher temperatures the number of energetic molecules is greater, and
evaporation is more rapid. Evaporation is also increased by increasing the surface area of the liquid or
by increasing the air circulation, thus carrying
away the energetic molecules leaving the liquid
before they can be slowed enough by collisions with air molecules to be reabsorbed into the liquid. If
the air is humid some water molecules from the air will pass back into the liquid, thus reducing the
rate of evaporation. An increase in atmospheric pressure also reduces evaporation. The process of
evaporation is always accompanied by a cooling effect. For example, when a liquid evaporates from
the skin, a cooling sensation results. The reason for this is that only the most energetic molecules of
liquid are lost by evaporation, so that the average energy of the remaining molecules decreases; the
surface temperature, which is a measure of this average energy, decreases also. Many refrigeration
processes are based on this principle.

UXL Encyclopedia of Science | 2002 | Copyright
Evaporation is the name given to the process in which a liquid is converted to the gaseous state.
Everyone is familiar with the process of evaporation. Suppose that you spill a teaspoon of water on
the kitchen table. If you come back a few hours later, the water will have disappeared. It has changed
from liquid water into water vapor, or evaporated.
Molecular explanation
Evaporation occurs because all molecules of all substances are constantly in motion. Consider the
molecules that make up a teaspoon of water, for example. Those molecules are constantly in motion,
flying back and forth within the water, sometimes colliding with each other. When collisions occur,
some molecules gain energy from other molecules.
Those changes make little difference for molecules deep within the water. But for molecules at the
surface of the water, the situation is different. Molecules at the surface that pick up energy from other
molecules begin to travel faster. Eventually, they may be able to travel fast enough to escape from the
surface of the water or to evaporate from the water.
This process continues as long as water molecules remain. Molecules that were once inside the water
eventually work their way to the surface. When they pick up enough energy by colliding with other
water molecules, they too escape. Eventually, no water molecules remain. The liquid has completely
The remaining liquid

This description explains an interesting fact about an evaporating liquid: its temperature decreases as
evaporation occurs. Remember that surface molecules escape from the liquid as they pick up energy
from other molecules. The molecules left behind, therefore, have less energy than they had before the
collisions. Since they have less energy, they also have a lower temperature.
The human body uses this principle to remain cool. On a warm day, we perspire (sweat). Sweat
evaporates from the skin, taking body heat with it. As a result, the body is cooled.
Commercial applications
Evaporation is an important commercial process by which liquids are removed from solids. In many
instances, a product is formed as the result of a chemical reaction that takes place in water. One way
to obtain the final product is to simply allow the water to evaporate leaving the solid product behind