Physical Properties of Ionic Compounds
Because of the many simultaneous attractions between cations and anions that occur, ionic crystal lattices are very strong. The process of melting an ionic compound requires the addition of large amounts of energy in order to break all of the ionic bonds in the crystal. For example, sodium chloride has a melting temperature of about 800°C.
Ionic compounds are generally hard, but brittle. Why? It takes a large amount of mechanical force, such as striking a crystal with a hammer, to force one layer of ions to shift relative to its neighbor. However, when that happens, it brings ions of the same charge next to each other (see Figure below). The repulsive forces between like-charged ions cause the crystal to shatter. When an ionic crystal breaks, it tends to do so along smooth planes because of the regular arrangement of the ions.
Another characteristic property of ionic compounds is their electrical conductivity. The figure below shows three experiments in which two electrodes that are connected to a light bulb are placed in beakers containing three different substances.
In the first beaker, distilled water does not conduct a current because water is a molecular compound. In the second beaker, solid sodium chloride also does not conduct a current. Despite being ionic and thus composed of charges particles, the solid crystal lattice does not allow the ions to move between the electrodes. Mobile charged particles are required for the circuit to be complete and the light bulb to light up. In the third beaker, the NaCl has been dissolved into the distilled water. Now the crystal lattice has been broken apart and the individual positive and negative ions can move. Cations move to one electrode, while anions move to the other, allowing electricity to flow (see Figure below). Melting an ionic compound also frees the ions to conduct a current. Ionic compounds conduct an electric current when melted or dissolved in water.
- Ionic compounds have high melting points.
- Ionic compounds are hard and brittle.
- Solutions of ionic compounds and melted ionic compounds conduct electricity, but solid materials do not.