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.


Antioxidant, type of molecule that neutralizes harmful compounds called free radicals that damage living cells, spoil food, and degrade materials such as rubber, gasoline, and lubricating oils. Antioxidants can take the form of enzymes in the body, vitamin supplements, or industrial additives. They are routinely added to metals, oils, foodstuffs, and other materials to prevent free radical damage.

Free radicals are produced under certain environmental conditions and during normal cellular function in the body. These molecules are missing an electron, giving them an electric charge. To neutralize this charge, free radicals try to steal an electron from, or donate an electron to, a neighboring molecule. This process, called oxidation, creates a new free radical from the neighboring molecule. The newly created free radical, in turn, searches out another molecule and steals or donates an electron, setting off a chain reaction that can damage hundreds of molecules.

Antioxidants halt this chain reaction. Some antioxidants are themselves free radicals, donating electrons to stabilize and neutralize the dangerous free radicals. Other antioxidants work against the molecules that form free radicals, destroying them before they can begin the domino effect that leads to oxidative damage.

Learn more: Antioxidants in the Human Body; Dietary Sources of Antioxidants; Antioxidants in Industry