An ideal gas is a gas that conforms, in physical behaviour, to a particular, idealized relation between pressure, volume, and temperature called the ideal gas law. This law is a generalization containing both Boyle's law and Charles's law as special cases and states that for a specified quantity of gas, the product of the volume, V, and pressure, P, is proportional to the absolute temperature T; i.e., in equation form, PV = kT, in which k is a constant. Such a relation for a substance is called its equation of state and is sufficient to describe its gross behaviour.
The ideal gas law can be derived from the kinetic theory of gases and relies on the assumptions that (1) the gas consists of a large number of molecules, which are in random motion and obey Newton's laws of motion; (2) the volume of the molecules is negligibly small compared to the volume occupied by the gas; and (3) no forces act on the molecules except during elastic collisions of negligible duration.
Although no gas has these properties, the behaviour of real gases is described quite closely by the ideal gas law at sufficiently high temperatures and low pressures, when relatively large distances between molecules and their high speeds overcome any interaction. A gas does not obey the equation when conditions are such that the gas, or any of the component gases in a mixture, is near its condensation point.
The ideal gas law may be written in a form applicable to any gas, according to Avogadro's law (q.v.), if the constant specifying the quantity of gas is expressed in terms of the number of molecules of gas. This is done by using as the mass unit the gram-mole; i.e., the molecular weight expressed in grams. The equation of state of n gram-moles of a perfect gas can then be written as pv/t = nR, in which R is called the universal gas constant. This constant has been measured for various gases under nearly ideal conditions of high temperatures and low pressures, and it is found to have the same value for all gases: R = 8.314 joules per gram-mole-kelvin.
Excerpt from the Encyclopedia Britannica without permission.