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Question 656

How can one measure the vapor pressure of mercury? If it is amalgamated, what is the relationship of vapor pressure with respect to temperature, material content in the amalgam, and free mercury? — BS, Erwin, TN
The vapor pressure of mercury is quite low at room temperature so you'd need a very sensitive pressure gauge and a vacuum system in order to measure it. You'd have to evacuate all of the air from the gauge and expose the empty gauge to a saturated vapor of mercury (mercury vapor that's in contact with liquid mercury) alone. While the pressure will only be a few thousandths of a millimeter of mercury, there are a number of pressure gauges that are capable of measuring pressures in this range.

Once the mercury is amalgamated with other metals, its vapor pressure drops substantially. The mercury atoms bind so strongly into the amalgam that they can remain in it for years, centuries, or even millennia. Mercury's vapor pressure in this bound form is exceedingly low. To measure it, you'd need a mass spectrometer that's capable of counting the atoms in the vapor above the amalgam.


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