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What Is Reversible Reaction

A reversible reaction is defined as a chemical reaction where the reactants and the products react together to give the reactants back. In simple words, we can say that it is a reaction involving the simultaneous conversion of reactants to products and vice versa.

The main characteristic of such type of reaction is that the reactants and products are never fully exhausted. Meaning, they are each continuously reacting and being produced. A reversible reaction is indicated or expressed as follows;

X + Y N + Z

X and Y can react to form N and Z and in the reverse reaction, N and Z can react to form X and Y. The double arrow is the indication that the chemical reaction is reversible.

Generally, in the process, the reacting molecules collide and cause chemical reactions in a closed system. When the products are formed, the bonds are broken when the molecules collide with each other, thereby generating enough energy to further break the bonds of the product and reactant molecules. Reversible reactions may not occur at the same rate in both directions. Nonetheless, an equilibrium condition is achieved. This also depends on the initial concentrations of the reactants and products and the equilibrium constant, K.

In essence, the main concept that we need to understand here is that the products can be changed back into the original reactants.

The idea of a reversible reaction was first proposed by Claude Louis Berthollet, a French chemist in the year 1803. He came to such a conclusion after observing the formation of sodium carbonate crystals in a salt lake in Egypt.

2NaCl + CaCO3 ⇌ Na2CO3 + CaCl2

He had stated that the excess quantity of salt present in the lake facilitated the “reverse” reaction leading to the production of sodium carbonate. Interestingly, the products could be reacted again to get sodium chloride and calcium carbonate. Up until this point, chemical reactions were believed to always proceed in only one direction.

Also Read:Types of Chemical Reactions

Later in the year 1864, Peter Waage and Cato Guldberg quantified Berthollet’s observation by proposing a new law known as the law of mass action. As years progressed and developments happened, Braun and Le Chatelier in between the years 1884 and 1888 formulated Le Chatelier’s principle, which explained that once a state of dynamic equilibrium was reached various adjustments could be made to the conditions of the equilibrium. This further resulted in a change in the proportions of reactants and products in the equilibrium mixture.

A few examples of reversible reactions are;

Ammonium chloride ⇌ ammonia + hydrogen chloride

NH4Cl(s) ⇌ NH3(g) + HCl(g)

Hydrated copper(II) sulfate ⇌ anhydrous copper(II) sulfate + water

CuSO4.5H2O(s) ⇌ CuSO4(s) + 5H2O(l)

Some of the weak acids and bases also tend to undertake reversible reactions. We can take the example of carbonic acid:

H2CO3 (l) + H2O(l) ⇌ HCO3−(aq) + H3O+(aq)

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