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.


Allotrope, two or more distinct physical forms of a chemical element in the same physical state. The term allotropy comes from the Greek allos tropos meaning “another shape.” Allotropes arise because of differing arrangements of an element’s atoms within its molecules or crystals.

One of the best-known examples of allotropy is carbon, which has multiple distinct allotropes including graphite, diamond, and buckminsterfullerene. Carbon atoms in diamond form a rigid, three-dimensional structure, with each carbon atom bonded to four other carbon atoms. In graphite the carbon atoms form stacks of flat honeycomb layers with only weak intermolecular forces between layers, while buckminsterfullerene forms balls and tubes with structures reminiscent of the geodesic domes designed by the architect Richard Buckminster Fuller.

Elements exhibiting allotropy include arsenic, antimony, iron, oxygen, phosphorus, selenium, sulfur, and tin.

There are two main kinds of allotropy, monotropy and enantiotropy. Monotropy (monotropic allotropy) occurs when one form of a substance is stable at all temperatures, while any other forms are metastable, and change (sometimes very slowly) into the stable form. For carbon, graphite is the stable monotrope, while diamond and buckminsterfullerene change, extremely slowly, into graphite. Phosphorus also exhibits monotropy: Red phosphorus is stable, while white (sometimes called yellow) phosphorus is metastable.

Enantiotropy (enantiotropic allotropy) occurs when one solid form of the substance changes into another solid form of the same substance when at a definite transition temperature. Tin, which changes from white tin to gray tin below 13°C (55°F), is an example of this type of allotropy. Gray tin is much more brittle than white tin. The Greek philosopher Aristotle recorded tin statues collapsing in the intense cold as long ago as the 4th century BC.