The Avogadro constant, named after scientist Amedeo Avogadro, is the number of constituent particles, usually molecules, atoms or ions that are contained in the amount of substance given by one mole. It is the proportionality factor that relates the molar mass of a substance to the mass of a sample, is designated with the symbol NA or L, and is defined to have the value of exactly 6.02214076×1023 mol−1 in the International System of Units (SI).

The Avogadro number is defined to be the dimensionless value 6.02214076×1023. The Avogadro constant is defined in terms of the Avogadro number. The Avogadro number was initially defined by Jean Baptiste Perrin as the number of atoms in one gram-molecule of atomic hydrogen, meaning one gram of hydrogen. This number is also known as Loschmidt constant in German literature (not to be confused with the entirely different Loschmidt constant in the English language literature). The Avogadro number, and its definition, was deprecated in favor of the Avogadro constant and its definition. The constant was later redefined as the number of atoms in 12 grams of the isotope carbon-12 (12C), and still later generalized to relate amounts of a substance to their molecular weight. For instance, the number of nucleons (protons and neutrons) in one mole of any sample of ordinary matter is, to a first approximation, 6×1023 times its molecular weight. Similarly, 12 grams of 12C, with the mass number 12 (6 protons, 6 neutrons), has a similar number of carbon atoms, 6.022×1023. The Avogadro number is a dimensionless quantity, and has the same numerical value of the Avogadro constant when given in base units. In contrast, the Avogadro constant has the dimension of reciprocal amount of substance. The Avogadro constant can also be expressed as 0.6022... mL⋅mol−1⋅Å−3, which can be used to convert from volume per molecule in cubic ångströms to molar volume in millilitres per mole.

Value of NA in various units
6.02214076×1023 mol−1
2.73159734(12)×1026 (lb-mol)−1
1.707248434(77)×1025 (oz-mol)−1

History

The Avogadro constant is named after the early 19th-century Italian scientist Amedeo Avogadro, who, in 1811, first proposed that the volume of a gas (at a given pressure and temperature) is proportional to the number of atoms or molecules regardless of the nature of the gas. The French physicist Jean Perrin in 1909 proposed naming the constant in honor of Avogadro. Perrin won the 1926 Nobel Prize in Physics, largely for his work in determining the Avogadro constant by several different methods.

The value of the Avogadro constant was first indicated by Johann Josef Loschmidt, who in 1865 estimated the average diameter of the molecules in the air by a method that is equivalent to calculating the number of particles in a given volume of gas. This latter value, the number density n0 of particles in an ideal gas, is now called the Loschmidt constant in his honor, and is related to the Avogadro constant, NA, by

$n_{0}={\frac {p_{0}N_{\rm {A}}}{R\,T_{0}}},$

where p0 is the pressure, R is the gas constant, and T0 is the absolute temperature. The connection with Loschmidt is the origin of the symbol L sometimes used for the Avogadro constant, and German-language literature may refer to both constants by the same name, distinguished only by the units of measurement.

Accurate determinations of the Avogadro constant require the measurement of a single quantity on both the atomic and macroscopic scales using the same unit of measurement. This became possible for the first time when American physicist Robert Millikan measured the charge on an electron in 1910. The electric charge per mole of electrons is a constant called the Faraday constant and had been known since 1834 when Michael Faraday published his works on electrolysis. By dividing the charge on a mole of electrons by the charge on a single electron the value of the Avogadro number is obtained. Since 1910, newer calculations have more accurately determined the values for the Faraday constant and the elementary charge (see § Measurement below).

Perrin originally proposed the name Avogadro's number (N) to refer to the number of molecules in one gram-molecule of oxygen (exactly 32g of oxygen, according to the definitions of the period), and this term is still widely used, especially in introductory works. The change in name to Avogadro constant (NA) came with the introduction of the mole as a base unit in the International System of Units (SI) in 1971, which regarded amount of substance as an independent dimension of measurement. With this recognition, the Avogadro constant was no longer a pure number, but had a unit of measurement, the reciprocal mole (mol−1).

While it is rare to use units of amount of substance other than the mole, the Avogadro constant can also be expressed by pound-mole and ounce-mole.

2019 redefinition

The prior definition of the mole was linked directly to the kilogram. The current definition breaks that link by defining the mole as the amount of the substance that consists of a specific number of entities.

Previous definition: The mole is the amount of substance of a system that contains as many elementary entities as there are atoms in 0.012 kilogram of carbon-12. When the mole is used, the elementary entities must be specified and may be atoms, molecules, ions, electrons, other particles, or specified groups of such particles.
2019 definition: The mole, symbol mol, is the SI unit of amount of substance. One mole contains exactly 6.02214076×1023 elementary entities. This number is the fixed numerical value of the Avogadro constant, NA, when expressed in the unit mol−1 and is called the Avogadro number. The amount of substance, symbol n, of a system is a measure of the number of specified elementary entities. An elementary entity may be an atom, a molecule, an ion, an electron, any other particle or specified group of particles.

One consequence of this change is that the previously defined relationship between the mass of the 12C atom, the dalton, the kilogram, and the Avogadro number is no longer by definition and thus not exact. To maintain a defined relationship a change to the definition of the atomic mass unit would have also been required; however, such changes were not implemented.

The wording of the ninth SI Brochure makes it clear that the definition of the atomic mass unit is unchanged as 1/12 of the mass of 12C. The molar mass constant, while still with great accuracy remaining 1 g/mol, is no longer exactly equal to that. Draft Resolution A, which was voted on at the 26th CGPM, only stated that "the molar mass of carbon 12, M(12C), is equal to 0.012 kg mol−1 within a relative standard uncertainty equal to that of the recommended value of NAh at the time this Resolution was adopted, namely 4.5×10−10, and that in the future its value will be determined experimentally".

Bridge from macroscopic to microscopic physics

The Avogadro constant, NA, is a scaling factor between macroscopic (amount of substance) and microscopic (particle number) physics. As such, it provides the relationship between other physical constants and properties. For example, it establishes the following relationships between the molar gas constant R and the Boltzmann constant kB,

$R=k_{\text{B}}N_{\text{A}}$  = 8.31446261815324 J⋅K−1⋅mol−1

the Faraday constant F and the elementary charge e,

$F=eN_{\text{A}}$  = 96485.3321233100184 C/mol

and the molar mass constant, Mu and the atomic mass constant mu,

$M_{\text{u}}=m_{\text{u}}}{N_{\text{A}}$  = 0.99999999965(30)×10−3 kg⋅mol−1.

Measurement

Coulometry

The earliest accurate method to measure the value of the Avogadro constant was based on coulometry. The principle is to measure the Faraday constant, F, which is the electric charge carried by one mole of electrons, and to divide by the elementary charge, e, to obtain the Avogadro constant.

$N_{\text{A}}={\frac {F}{e}}$

The classic experiment is that of Bower and Davis at NIST, and relies on dissolving silver metal away from the anode of an electrolysis cell, while passing a constant electric current I for a known time t. If m is the mass of silver lost from the anode and Ar the atomic weight of silver, then the Faraday constant is given by:

$F={\frac {A_{\rm {r}}M_{\rm {u}}It}{m}}.$

The NIST scientists devised a method to compensate for silver lost from the anode by mechanical causes, and conducted an isotope analysis of the silver used to determine its atomic weight. Their value for the conventional Faraday constant is ℱ90 = 96485.39(13) C/mol, which corresponds to a value for the Avogadro constant of 6.0221449(78)×1023 mol−1: both values have a relative standard uncertainty of 1.3×10−6.

Electron mass measurement

The Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA) publishes values for physical constants for international use. It determines the Avogadro constant from the ratio of the molar mass of the electron Ar(e)Mu to the rest mass of the electron me:

$N_{\rm {A}}={\frac {A_{\rm {r}}({\rm {e}})M_{\rm {u}}}{m_{\rm {e}}}}.$

The relative atomic mass of the electron, Ar(e), is a directly measured quantity, and the molar mass constant, Mu, is a defined constant in the SI. The electron rest mass, however, is calculated from other measured constants:

$m_{\rm {e}}={\frac {2R_{\infty }h}{c\alpha ^{2}}}.$

As may be observed in the table below, the main limiting factor in the precision of the Avogadro constant is the uncertainty in the value of the Planck constant, as all the other constants that contribute to the calculation are known more precisely.

Constant Symbol 2014 CODATA value Relative standard uncertainty Correlation coefficient
with NA
Proton–electron mass ratio mp/me 1836.152 673 89(17) 9.5×10–11 −0.0003
Molar mass constant Mu 0.001 kg/mol = 1 g/mol 0 (defined)  —
Rydberg constant R 10 973 731.568 508(65) m−1 5.9×10–12 −0.0002
Planck constant h 6.626 070 040(81)×10–34 J s 1.2×10–8 −0.9993
Speed of light c 299 792 458 m/s 0 (defined)  —
Fine structure constant α 7.297 352 5664(17)×10–3 2.3×10–10 0.0193
Avogadro constant NA 6.022 140 857(74)×1023 mol−1 1.2×10–8 1

X-ray crystal density methods

A modern method to determine the Avogadro constant is the use of X-ray crystallography. Silicon single crystals may be produced today in commercial facilities with extremely high purity and with few lattice defects. This method defines the Avogadro constant as the ratio of the molar volume, Vm, to the atomic volume Vatom:

$N_{\rm {A}}={\frac {V_{\rm {m}}}{V_{\rm {atom}}}}$ , where $V_{\rm {atom}}={\frac {V_{\rm {cell}}}{n}}$  and n is the number of atoms per unit cell of volume Vcell.

The unit cell of silicon has a cubic packing arrangement of 8 atoms, and the unit cell volume may be measured by determining a single unit cell parameter, the length of one of the sides of the cube, a.

In practice, measurements are carried out on a distance known as d220(Si), which is the distance between the planes denoted by the Miller indices {220}, and is equal to a/8. The 2006 CODATA value for d220(Si) is 192.0155762(50) pm, a relative standard uncertainty of 2.8×10−8, corresponding to a unit cell volume of 1.60193304(13)×10−28 m3.

The isotope proportional composition of the sample used must be measured and taken into account. Silicon occurs in three stable isotopes (28Si, 29Si, 30Si), and the natural variation in their proportions is greater than other uncertainties in the measurements. The atomic weight Ar for the sample crystal can be calculated, as the standard atomic weights of the three nuclides are known with great accuracy. This, together with the measured density ρ of the sample, allows the molar volume Vm to be determined:

$V_{\rm {m}}={\frac {A_{\rm {r}}M_{\rm {u}}}{\rho }}$

where Mu is the molar mass constant. The 2006 CODATA value for the molar volume of silicon is 12.0588349(11) cm3⋅mol−1, with a relative standard uncertainty of 9.1×10−8.

As of the 2006 CODATA recommended values, the relative uncertainty in determinations of the Avogadro constant by the X-ray crystal density method is 1.2×10−7, about two and a half times higher than that of the electron mass method.

$h={\frac {c\alpha ^{2}A_{\rm {r}}({\rm {e}})M_{\rm {u}}}{2R_{\infty }N_{\rm {A}}}}.$