boiling point, temperature at which a substance changes its state from liquid to gas. A stricter definition of boiling point is the temperature at which the liquid and vapor (gas) phases of a substance can exist in equilibrium. When heat is applied to a liquid, the temperature of the liquid rises until the vapor pressure of the liquid equals the pressure of the surrounding gases. At this point there is no further rise in temperature, and the additional heat energy supplied is absorbed as latent heat of vaporization to transform the liquid into gas. This transformation occurs not only at the surface of the liquid (as in the case of evaporation) but also throughout the volume of the liquid, where bubbles of gas are formed. The boiling point of a liquid is lowered if the pressure of the surrounding gases is decreased. For example, water will boil at a lower temperature at the top of a mountain, where the atmospheric pressure on the water is less, than it will at sea level, where the pressure is greater. In the laboratory, liquids can be made to boil at temperatures far below their normal boiling points by heating them in vacuum flasks under greatly reduced pressure. On the other hand, if the pressure is increased, the boiling point is raised. For this reason, it is customary when the boiling point of a substance is given to include the pressure at which it is observed, if that pressure is other than standard, i.e., 760 mm of mercury or 1 atmosphere (see STP). The boiling point of a solution is always higher than that of the pure solvent; this boiling-point elevation is one of the colligative properties common to all solutions.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.