Eduard-Job-Stiftung für Thermo- und Stoffdynamik

Chemical potential – a quantity in search of recognition

Eur. J. Phys. 27,353-371 (2006)

Abstract: The chemical potential is a quantity for which students hardly have an intuitive feeling in contrast to other intensive quantities like pressure or temperature. Some students may believe that this is not really an insufficiency because the chemical potential seems to be essentially a quantity for chemists. We will try to show that the chemical potential does not merit its reputation as a difficult to understand quantity. Not only is it easy to grasp, it is a particularly intelligible quantity for which even the layman can develop a feeling. Moreover, this quantity is not only important for chemists. It is just as useful for describing physical phenomena and processes, such as phase transitions, the stratification of gases in a gravitational field and electric currents in semi-conductor junctions and nuclear reactions, to mention just a few