Cracking the AP Chemistry Exam
Content Review for the AP Chemistry Exam
Big Idea #6: Equilibrium, Acids and Bases, Titrations, and Solubility
CHANGES IN THE EQUILIBRIUM CONSTANT
It is important to understand that shifts caused by concentration or pressure changes are temporary shifts, and do not change the value of the equilibrium constant itself. Eventually, the concentrations of the products and reactants will re-establish the same ratio as they originally had at equilibrium.
However, shifts caused by temperature changes are different. Because changing temperature also affects reaction kinetics by adding (or removing) energy from the equilibrium system, a change in temperature will also affect the equilibrium constant for the reaction itself, in addition to causing a shift. This means the ratio of the products to reactants at equilibrium will change as the temperature changes.
In the Haber process, an increase in temperature causes a shift to the left, and it would permanently affect the value of the equilibrium constant in a way that is consistent with the shift. A shift to the left causes an increase in the concentrations of the reactants (the denominator in the mass action expression) while simultaneously causing a a decrease in the concentration of the product (the numerator in the mass action expression). Thus, increasing the temperature decreases the value of the equilibrium constant—that is, it causes there to be a larger amount of reactants present at equilibrium compared to the amount of products. The reverse would be true for a temperature decrease; the shift to the right would cause an increase in the equilibrium constant.