Collection: Avogadro's Constant

The Avogadro constant, the number of entities in an amount of substance of one mole, links the atomic and the macroscopic properties of matter. Since the molar Planck constant - the product of the Planck constant and the Avogadro constant - is very well known via the measurement of the Rydberg constant, the Avogadro constant is also closely related to the Planck constant. In addition, its accurate determination is of paramount importance for a new definition of the kilogram in terms of a fundamental constant.

Contrary to the beliefs of generations of chemistry students, Avogadro’s number—the number of particles in a unit known as a mole—was not discovered by Amadeo Avogadro (1776-1856). Avogadro was a lawyer who became interested in mathematics and physics, and in 1820 he became the first professor of physics in Italy. Avogadro is most famous for his hypothesis that equal volumes of different gases at the same temperature and pressure contain the same number of particles.

The first person to estimate the actual number of particles in a given amount of a substance was Josef Loschmidt, an Austrian high school teacher who later became a professor at the University of Vienna. In 1865 Loschmidt used kinetic molecular theory to estimate the number of particles in one cubic centimeter of gas at standard conditions. This quantity is now known as the Loschmidt constant, and the accepted value of this constant is 2.6867773 x 1025 m-3.

The term “Avogadro’s number” was first used by French physicist Jean Baptiste Perrin. In 1909 Perrin reported an estimate of Avogadro’s number based on his work on Brownian motion—the random movement of microscopic particles suspended in a liquid or gas. In the years since then, a variety of techniques have been used to estimate the magnitude of this fundamental constant.

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