Evaporation is a type of vaporization of a liquid that occurs from the surface of a liquid into a gaseous phase that is not saturated with the evaporating substance. The other type of vaporization is boiling, which is characterized by bubbles of saturated vapor forming in the liquid phase. Steam produced in a boiler is another example of evaporation occurring in a saturated vapor phase. Evaporation that occurs directly from the solid phase below the melting point, as commonly observed with ice at or below freezing or moth crystals (napthalene or paradichlorobenzene), is called sublimation.
On average, a fraction of the molecules in a glass of water have enough heat energy to escape from the liquid. The reverse also happens — water molecules from the air enter the water in the glass — but as long as the relative humidity of the air in contact is less than 100% (i.e., saturation), the net transfer of water molecules will be to the air. The water in the glass will be cooled by the evaporation until an equilibrium is reached where the air supplies the amount of heat removed by the evaporating water. In an enclosed environment the water would evaporate until the air is saturated.
With sufficient temperature, the liquid would turn into vapor quickly (see boiling point). When the molecules collide, they transfer energy to each other in varying degrees, based on how they collide. Sometimes the transfer is so one-sided for a molecule near the surface that it ends up with enough energy to “escape” and enter the surrounding air.« Back to Glossary Index