What is Tripple point?

What is Tripple point?

Tripple point is a term coined in 1873 by James Thomson, brother of Lord Kelvin. Tripple point of a substance means the temperature and pressure at which a substance exists in all the 3 states (gas, liquid, solid) simultaneously in thermodynamic equilibrium. Now that sounds pretty weird. For instance let us consider the substance to be water. Water boils at 373 K (100 degrees celcius), it is liquid above 273K (above 0 degrees Celcius) and it’s solid i.e ice below 273K (below 0 degrees Celcius). So how is it even possible that all three states are able to coexist.

First let’s go through some basic thermodynamics.
                                                    PV=nRT
This is the famous Ideal Gas equation.
: Pressure
: Volume
n : No. of mole i.e amount of substance
R : Gas constant
: Temperature

Now when we try to achieve tripple point of any substance, the system or the container is isolated from the surrounding. So the volume remains constant, amount of substance is constant, the gas constant will always be a constant. So to keep the equation valid Pressure has to be directly proportional to Temperature.

Here things become interesting. So if we reduce the pressure in the system we actually reduce the boiling point of the substance. That’s why in vacuum chamber water boils instantly. So now all we have to do it carefully maintain pressure and temperature of the system in such a way that it freezes the substance into solid but low pressure starts boiling it and in between there will be liquid state. That’s how you obtain a tripple point of a substance.

And believe me it just looks too weird that a substance, for instance water, is boiling but freezing at the same time in the same container!
The tripple point for water is achieved at 273.16K (0.01 degrees celcius) and at the Pressure of 0.0060 atm i.e 0.611… kPa.

Take a look at this interesting video : https://youtu.be/r3zP9Rj7lnc


Just like water has tripple point at specific parameters of pressure and temperature other substances have thier own tripple points where they coexits in all 3 states.

What is the significance of tripple point?

What exactly is this parameter used for? Well triple points make ideal reference points for the calibration of thermometers. They can be realised by using a sealed, evacuated, cylindrical glass cell filled with the pure substance, with an axial re-entrant well for the insertion of the thermometer. This device is called tripple point cell used for calibration of thermometers.
The triple point of water has a unique place in metrology since it is the basis of the definition of the units of temperature, the kelvin and the degree Celsius. Its temperature is 273.16 K and 0.01 °C by definition. Additionally, the triple points of mercury and several gases – argon, oxygen, neon and hydrogen – are used as low temperature reference points on the ITS-90. Triple point cells containing organic substances can also be made. Ethylene carbonate has a triple point temperature of 36.315 °C which, being close to body temperature, makes it a highly useful reference point for the calibration of clinical thermometers, while benzoic acid has a triple point temperature of 122.33 °C, close to the sterilising temperature of medical drip solutions.

Triple point cells are so effective at achieving highly precise, reproducible temperatures, an international calibration standard for thermometers called ITS–90 relies upon triple point cells of hydrogen, neon, oxygen, argon, mercury, and water for delineating six of its defined temperature points.

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