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4 years ago

The standard breakdown of degrees of freedom subtracts out global movement in each of the three directions. So you have 3N total degrees of freedom, but you can set aside 3 of them as translation of the whole molecule in each of the x, y and z directions, leaving (3N-3) degrees of freedom.

Likewise, it's standard to subtract out the whole molecule rotation. For most larger molecules, there's three different degrees of rotational freedom: rotation around each of the x, y, and z directions. But for linear molecules like CO2

, one of those rotations (around the axis of the molecule) doesn't actually change the position of the atoms. Therefore it's not a "degree of freedom" which counts against the 3N total. So while for non-linear molecules there are (3N-3-3) = (3N-6) degrees of freedom which are independent from the global rotational and translational ones, for linear molecules there are (3N-3-2) = (3N-5) degrees of freedom which are independent from the global rotational and translational ones. -- A quick clarification. The reason why we ignore this rotation is not because the center of mass doesn't move. The center of mass doesn't move for any of the global rotations: in the typical assignment of degrees of freedom the axis of rotation goes through the center of mass. Instead, the reason the rotation is ignored is that none of the atoms move due to the "rotation".

So since CO2has three atoms and is linear, it has 3*3 - 5 = 4 degrees of freedom which are independent of the global rotation and translation. We call these the vibrational modes. There's different ways you can decompose them, but the most useful one is 1) the symmetric stretch (both oxygens going out and in at the same rate while the carbon sits still), 2) the asymmetric stretch (the carbon going back and forth while the oxygens sit more-or-less still), and 3&4) two different out-of plane bending modes. (If the molecule is aligned along the x-axis, one each where the carbon moves in the y and z directions.)

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