Van der Waals Interactions Are Weak Interatomic Attractions

When two uncharged atoms are brought very close together, their surrounding electron clouds influence each other. Random variations in the positions of the electrons around one nucleus may create a transient electric dipole, which induces a transient, opposite electric dipole in the nearby atom. The two dipoles weakly attract each other, bringing the two nuclei closer. These weak attractions are called van der Waals interactions. As the two nuclei draw closer together, their electron clouds begin to repel each other. At the point where the van der Waals attraction exactly balances this repulsive force, the nuclei are said to be in van der Waals contact. Each atom has a characteristic van der Waals radius, a measure of how close that atom will allow another to approach (Table 2-4). In the "space-filling" molecular models shown throughout this book, the atoms are depicted in sizes proportional to their van der Waals radii.

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