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Solvation, also sometimes called dissolution, is the process of attraction and association of molecules of a solvent with molecules or ions of a solute. As the molecules or ions dissolve in a solvent they spread out and become surrounded by solvent molecules, forming a solvate complex. Solvation is the process of surrounding solute with solvent. It involves evening out a concentration gradient and evenly distributing the solute within the solvent.
By an IUPAC definition, solvation is an interaction of a solute with the solvent, which leads to stabilization of the solute species in the solution. One may also refer to the solvated state, whereby an ion in a solution is surrounded or complexed by solvent molecules (see solvation shell). The concept of the solvation interaction can also be applied to an insoluble material, for example, solvation of functional groups on a surface of ion-exchange resin.
Solvation is, in concept, distinct from dissolution and solubility. Dissolution is a kinetic process, and is quantified by its rate. Solubility quantifies the dynamic equilibrium state achieved when the rate of dissolution equals the rate of precipitation.
The consideration of the units makes the distinction clearer. Complexation can be described by coordination number and the complex stability constants. The typical unit for dissolution rate is mol/s. The unit for solubility can be mol/kg.
Liquefaction accompanied by an irreversible chemical change is also distinct from solvation. For example, zinc cannot be solvated by hydrochloric acid, but it can be converted into the soluble salt zinc chloride by a chemical reaction.
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