Overview of the Study of Matter
By Ron Kurtus (revised 30 December 2017)
A major aspect of Physics concerns the study of matter and how the various forms of energy affect matter.
Matter is defined as anything that takes up space and has mass. The measurement of mass is often done by comparing with a standard mass.
There are several theories about what matter consists of and how it behaves. Also, matter can be broken into particles and even waves. There are different states of matter, depending on temperature and pressure on the material.
Questions you may have include:
- What are the theories of matter?
- What are the particles of matter?
- What are the states of matter?
This lesson will answer those questions. Useful tool: Units Conversion
Theories of matter
Originally, matter was defined simply as something that takes up space and has mass. It is all the stuff around us.
(See Definition of Matter for more information.)
In an effort to understand matter, scientists came up with several theories about what matter consists of.
(See Theories of Matter for more information.)
On closer examination of matter, at the microscopic level, it was found that matter was not continuous but was made up of tiny particles in motion. This brought about the Molecular or Kinetic Theory of Matter.
(See Kinetic Theory of Matter for more information.)
The Atomic Theory of Matter states that matter consists atoms that make up the molecules. The Quantum Theory states that the particles of matter can also be in the form of waves. This is also known as the Wave-Particle Duality.
Particles of matter
Particles of matter start with molecules, which are made up of atoms bound together by electrical forces.
It was thought that atoms were the smallest units of matter and were indivisible. However, further experiments showed that atoms were made up of even smaller subatomic particles: protons, neutrons, and electrons.
(See Structure of the Atom for more information.)
It was then found that protons and neutrons where made up of even smaller particles called quarks. Also, a number of other particles were discovered that were not part of the atom.
(See Fundamental Particles of Matter for more information.)
To add to the confusion, experiments showed that electrons and the other subatomic particles can act as if they were waves. This was called the particle-wave duality.
Finally, although we call them particles, envisioning tiny little balls, there are theories that they exist as strings or clouds.
States of matter
Certain materials can exist in several different states or phases, provided the molecules do not break down or result in a chemical reaction. These phases depend on the temperature and external pressure on the material. These states are:
Liquids and gases are considered fluids. They have a number of characteristics in common.
(See States of Matter for more information.)
There are also some exotic states of matter:
- Bose-Einstein condensates
(See Exotic States of Matter for more information.)
In the study of matter, there are theories about what matter consists of and how it behaves. Matter can be broken into particles and even waves. There are different states of matter, depending on temperature and pressure on the material.
Enjoy your work
Resources and references
Matter - Wikipedia
Matter is the Stuff Around You - Chem4Kids.com
Matter: Definition & the Five States of Matter - LiveScience.com
Questions and comments
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Overview of the Study of Matter