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Name: Weiyoong
Status: student
Grade: 9-12
Location: Singapore

I saw the link.

Since it is stated that ice evaporates, does metal in solid form evaporate too?

Hi Weiyoong,

The general answer to your question is, no, at anything like normal temperatures and pressures, metals (at least common metals) do not sublime. But under certain circumstances, especially high temperatures and low pressures, metal sublimation is known. A common example is a normal light bulb. The white hot tungsten filament slowly evaporates (or sublimates), eventually resulting in its failure. The dark spot often seen on a burned out light bulb is the tungsten filament that has sublimated and condensed directly to a solid on the cooler glass shell.

Bob Wilson


Good way to infer a question. As you may have noticed from the answers given in that link, the rate of evaporation is very much a function of temperature and the vapor pressure of that substance at that particular temperature. Water has a boiling temperature at sea-level of 100degC. Thus, we can say that at sea-level and 100degC, the vapor pressure of water is 760torr. If we go down to just above 0degC, the vapor pressure is down to 4.6torr. If we go down another 90 deg to -90degC we find that the vapor pressure is barely measurable at 0.00007torr.

Translate this pressure to number of moles (using the ideal gas equation; PV=nRT or PV/RT = n) and we find that assuming a volume of 1L above the substance, at 100degC (760torr), there are 0.0326mol of water vapor. At 0degC and 4.6torr, there are 0.00027mol. At -90degC (and 0.00007torr) there are 6e-9 mol. Even if we assume that all these number of moles are removed by the blowing of air above the solid such that this is the number of moles removed per second, it would take around 30sec to blow away 1mol (18g) of water at its boiling point, about an hour for ice at 0degC, and over 5 years (!) to blow away 1mol (18g) of ice at -90degC.

Now think of a metal (such as iron) that has a melting point that is around 1500degC. At room temperature, this metal must have an infinitesimally small vapor pressure. It would take a long time indeed to blow away such a substance. Thus, we say that some solid objects, such as metals have a non-appreciable vapor pressure, or an insignificantly low vapor pressure.

Greg (Roberto Gregorius)

Under the proper conditions it is possible to sublime metals as well as many other compounds. Perhaps the "classic" example is the sublimation of CO2 ("dry ice"). Every pure substance has three physical forms -- solid, liquid, vapor. Some substances have more than one solid form. It is possible given the proper conditions to convert one to the other without involving the third physical form.

Vince Calder

Just as with water molecules in ice, atoms from metals can vaporize too, although for most metals the rate is very slow at room temperature (so slow, it is essentially zero). This is because the amount of energy it takes to break free from the crystal lattice of the metal is so high (much higher than required for a water molecule to break free).

The main principle to learn here is that the atoms or molecules in a substance don't all have the same energy. Some have more energy than others, and are therefore more likely to 'break away' from a solid and 'evaporate'. However, the amount of energy required is different for different substances. For metals, that amount is much, much higher, so many, many fewer molecules will break free, so few that (for a bar of platinum, for instance) you wouldn't be able to notice a change in its mass for a very, very long time. There are instruments that generate large amounts of energy to drive metal atoms from a solid, though, and they can evaporate metals quickly.

I bring up platinum because the official standard for the kilogram has been a bar of platinum-iridium -- if it evaporated quickly, it would be worthless as a standard of mass!

I hope this helps,
Burr Zimmerman

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