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.

States of Matter

States of Matter, in classical physics, three forms in which matter occurs—solid, liquid, and gas. Plasma, the collection of charged gaseous particles containing nearly equal numbers of negative and positive ions, is sometimes called the fourth state of matter (see Ion; Ionization). Solid matter is characterized by resistance to any change in shape, caused by a strong attraction between the molecules of which it is composed. In liquid form, matter does not resist forces that act to change its shape, because the molecules are free to move with respect to each other (see Molecule). Liquids, however, have sufficient molecular attraction to resist forces tending to change their volume. Gaseous matter, in which molecules are widely dispersed and move freely, offers no resistance to change of shape and little resistance to change of volume. As a result, a gas that is not confined tends to diffuse infinitely, increasing in volume and diminishing in density.

Most substances are solid at low temperatures, liquid at medium temperatures, and gaseous at high temperatures, but the states are not always distinct (see Temperature). The temperature at which any given substance changes from solid to liquid is its melting point, and the temperature at which it changes from liquid to gas is its boiling point; (see Freezing Point). The range of melting and boiling points varies widely. Helium remains a gas down to -268.9°C (-452°F), and tungsten remains a solid up to about 3420°C (about 6190°F).

For further discussion of the properties of matter in its different states, see Atom; Crystal; Fluid; Glass; Liquid Crystal; Thermodynamics; Vapor. See also Critical Point; Cryogenics.