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compression, external stress applied to an object or substance, tending to cause a decrease in volume (see pressure). Gases can be compressed easily, solids and liquids to a very small degree if at all. Water, for example, is practically incompressible, thus making it especially useful for hydraulic machines. According to the kinetic-molecular theory of gases, when the molecules of a gas are brought close enough together by compression, the gas (under certain conditions of temperature) undergoes liquefaction. This principle is applied commercially to several gases, including liquid oxygen and the so-called bottled gas (a mixture of hydrocarbons) used as a fuel. Boyle's law deals with the decrease in the volume of a gas in relation to the increase of pressure upon it (see gas laws). The ability or the degree to which an internal-combustion engine reduces the volume of its fuel mixture preparatory to firing is called its compression. Also, a region of high pressure in a fluid is called a compression; thus sound waves are said to propagate at compressions and rarefactions (regions of low pressure) of their medium, such as air.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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