Relating Pressure, Volume, Amount, and Temperature: The Ideal Gas Law Introduction


By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify the mathematical relationships between the various properties of gases
  • Use the ideal gas law, and related gas laws, to compute the values of various gas properties under specified conditions

During the seventeenth and especially eighteenth centuries, driven both by a desire to understand nature and a quest to make balloons in which they could fly ([link]), a number of scientists established the relationships between the macroscopic physical properties of gases, that is, pressure, volume, temperature, and amount of gas. Although their measurements were not precise by today’s standards, they were able to determine the mathematical relationships between pairs of these variables (e.g., pressure and temperature, pressure and volume) that hold for an ideal gas—a hypothetical construct that real gases approximate under certain conditions. Eventually, these individual laws were combined into a single equation—the ideal gas law—that relates gas quantities for gases and is quite accurate for low pressures and moderate temperatures. We will consider the key developments in individual relationships (for pedagogical reasons not quite in historical order), then put them together in the ideal gas law.

In 1783, the first (a) hydrogen-filled balloon flight, (b) manned hot air balloon flight, and (c) manned hydrogen-filled balloon flight occurred. When the hydrogen-filled balloon depicted in (a) landed, the frightened villagers of Gonesse reportedly destroyed it with pitchforks and knives. The launch of the latter was reportedly viewed by 400,000 people in Paris.