Matter & Energy

Matter is composed of atoms or groups of atoms called molecules. The arrangement of particles in a material depends on the physical state of the substance. In a solid, particles form a compact structure that resists flow. Particles in a liquid have more energy than those in a solid. They can flow past one another, but they remain close. Particles in a gas have the most energy. They move rapidly and are separated from one another by relatively large distances.


Radioactivity, spontaneous disintegration of atomic nuclei by the emission of subatomic particles called alpha particles and beta particles, or of electromagnetic rays called X rays and gamma rays. The phenomenon was discovered in 1896 by the French physicist Antoine Henri Becquerel when he observed that the element uranium can blacken a photographic plate, although separated from it by glass or black paper. He also observed that the rays that produce the darkening are capable of discharging an electroscope, indicating that the rays possess an electric charge. In 1898 the French chemists Marie Curie and Pierre Curie deduced that radioactivity is a phenomenon associated with atoms, independent of their physical or chemical state. They also deduced that because the uranium-containing ore pitchblende is more intensely radioactive than the uranium salts that were used by Becquerel, other radioactive elements must be in the ore. They carried through a series of chemical treatments of the pitchblende that resulted in the discovery of two new radioactive elements, polonium and radium. Marie Curie also discovered that the element thorium is radioactive, and in 1899 the radioactive element actinium was discovered by the French chemist André Louis Debierne. In that same year the discovery of the radioactive gas radon was made by the British physicists Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy, who observed it in association with thorium, actinium, and radium.