liquefaction, change of a substance from the solid or the gaseous state to the liquid state. Since the different states of matter correspond to different amounts of energy of the molecules making up the substance, energy in the form of heat must either be supplied to a substance or be removed from the substance in order to change its state. Thus, changing a solid to a liquid or a liquid to a gas requires the addition of heat, while changing a gas to a liquid or a liquid to a solid requires the removal of heat. In the liquefaction of gases, extreme cooling is not necessary, for if a gas is held in a confined space and is subjected to high pressure, heat is given off as it undergoes compression and it turns eventually to a liquid. Some cooling is, however, necessary; it was discovered by Thomas Andrews in 1869 that each gas has a definite temperature, called its critical temperature, above which it cannot be liquefied, no matter what pressure is exerted upon it. A gas must, therefore, be cooled below its critical temperature before it can be liquefied. When a gas is compressed its molecules are forced closer together and, their vibratory motion being reduced, heat is given off. As compression proceeds, the speed of the molecules and the distances between them continue to decrease, until eventually the substance undergoes change of state and becomes liquid. Although before the 19th cent. a number of scientists had experimented in liquefying gases, Davy and Faraday are usually credited with being the first to achieve success. The production of liquefied gases in large quantities (and consequently their use in refrigeration) was made possible by the work of Z. F. Wroblewski and K. S. Olszewski, two Polish scientists. The work of Sir James Dewar is also important, especially in the liquefaction of air and its change to a solid. Heike Kamerlingh Onnes first liquefied helium. The critical temperature of helium is - 267.9°C, only a few degrees above absolute zero ( - 273.15°C). The processes for the liquefaction of gases as developed by Linde and others form the basis for those used in modern refrigeration. Liquefied gases are much used in low-temperature research; some, e.g., liquid oxygen, find use as rocket propellants. See liquid air; low-temperature physics.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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