You are on page 1of 6

The Phases of Matter

Matter can exist in several distinct forms which we call phases. We are all familiar with solids, liquids and gases. Whether a substance is a solid, liquid or gas depends on the potential energy in the atomic forces holding the particles together and the thermal energy of the particle motions. The pressure on the substance also has an effect on the phase. Matter can exist in four phases (or states), solid, liquid, gas, and plasma, plus a few other extreme phases like critical fluids and degenerate gases. Generally, as a solid is heated (or as pressure decreases), it will change to a liquid form, and will eventually become a gas. For example, ice (frozen water) melts into liquid water when it is heated. As the water boils, the water evaporates and becomes water vapor. Sometimes, a solid will go directly from solid to gas - this is called subliming. An example of sublimation is dry ice, the solid (frozen) form of carbon dioxide, CO2, which turns into gaseous carbon dioxide at standard temperature and pressure - there is no liquid phase of CO2 at standard temperature and pressure. The phases of matter define the boundaries between the different states of matter and are associated with the organization and physical composition of matter. They define the different forms in which matter exists. Let us take a look at the different phases of matter and try to understand the processes of phase transitions.

Solids are things you can hold that maintain their shape. A solid is matter in which the molecules are Solids are usually hard, because their molecules have been packed together. You might ask, "Is baby powder a solid? It's soft and powdery." Baby power is also a solid. It's just a ground down piece of talc. Solids can be hard, soft, big or small like grains of sand. The key is that the solids hold their shape and they don't flow like a liquid. A rock will always look like a rock unless something happens to it. The same goes for a diamond. Even when you grind up a solid into a powder, you will see tiny pieces of that solid under a microscope. Liquids will flow and fill up any shape of container. Solids like their shape. In the same way that a solid holds its shape, the atoms inside of a solid are not allowed to move around too much. This is one of the physical characteristics of solids. Atoms and molecules in liquids and gases are bouncing and floating around, free to move where they want. The molecules in a solid are stuck in a specific structure or arrangement of atoms. The atoms still spin and the electrons fly around, but the entire atom will not

change position. Solids can be made up of many things. They can have pure elements or a variety of compounds inside. When you get more than one type of compound in a solid it is called a mixture. Most rocks are mixtures of many different compounds. Concrete is a good example of a man-made mixture. very close together and cannot move around. Examples of solids include rocks, wood, and ice (frozen water). In the solid phase the molecules are closely bound to one another by molecular forces. When in solid state, the molecules of a substance are tightly bound to each other. As the molecules have a fixed position in space, a solid exhibits rigidity and possesses a distinct shape. The intermolecular distances in a solid are the least while the intermolecular forces of attraction are the strongest. When a substance in solid state is supplied with an amount of heat that raises its temperature to its melting point, the substance acquires a liquid state. There is an exception to this rule in case the solid substance is a sublimate. A solid that directly acquires a gaseous state on heating is known as a sublimate. Camphor is a classic example of sublimates. A solid holds its shape and the volume of a solid is fixed by the shape of the solid. It is characterized by structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume. Unlike a liquid, a solid object does not flow to take on the shape of its container, nor does it expand to fill the entire volume available to it like a gas does. The atoms in a solid are tightly bound to each other, either in a regular geometric lattice (crystalline solids, which include metals and ordinary water ice) or irregularly (an amorphous solid such as common window glass).

Crystaline Solids
Crystaline solids are characterised by a long-range order. The atoms are closely packed on lattice points held in in place by atomic bonds. The internal energy of the atoms is not sufficient to allow the atoms to break away from their lattice positions. Examples of crystaline solids include semiconductors, quartz, salt, etc.

Amorphous Solids
Amorphous Solids are still closely packed together but lack the translational symmetry of crystaline solids. However, even amorphous solids have relatively good spatial ordering, especially over small distances, (10-100 molecules)

Liquid is one of the three primary states of matter, with the others being solid and gas. A liquid is a fluid. Unlike a solid, the molecules in a liquid have a much greater freedom to move. The forces that bind the molecules together in a solid are only temporary in a liquid, allowing a liquid to flow while a solid remains rigid. A liquid, like a gas, displays the properties of a fluid. A liquid can flow, assume the shape of a container, and, if placed in a sealed container, will distribute applied pressure evenly to every

surface in the container. Unlike a gas, a liquid may not always mix readily with another liquid, will not always fill every space in the container, forming its own surface, and will not compress significantly, except under extremely high pressures. These properties make a liquid suitable for applications such as hydraulics. Liquid particles are bound firmly but not rigidly. They are able to move around one another freely, resulting in a limited degree of particle mobility. As the temperature increases, the increased vibrations of the molecules causes distances between the molecules to increase. When a liquid reaches its boiling point, the cohesive forces that bind the molecules closely together break, and the liquid changes to its gaseous state (unless superheating occurs). If the temperature is decreased, the distances between the molecules become smaller. When the liquid reaches its freezing point the molecules will usually lock into a very specific order, called crystallizing, and the bonds between them become more rigid, changing the liquid into its solid state (unless supercooling occurs). Water is a liquid. Your blood is a liquid. Liquids are an in-between state of matter. They can be found between the solid and gas states. They don't have to be made up of the same molecules. If you have a variety of materials dissolved in a liquid, it is called a solution. One characteristic of a liquid is that it will fill up the shape of a container. If you pour some water (H2O) in a cup, it will fill up the bottom of the cup first and then fill the rest. The water will also take the shape of the cup. The top part of a liquid will usually have a flat surface. That flat surface is the result of gravity pulling on the molecules. Putting an ice cube (solid) into a cup will leave you with a cube in the middle of the cup because it is a solid. The shape of the solid cube won't change until the ice becomes a liquid. Another trait of a liquid is that it is difficult to compress. When you compress something, you measure out a certain amount of material and force it into a smaller space. Solids are very difficult to compress and gases are very easy. Liquids are in the middle, but tend to be difficult. When you compress something, you force the atoms closer together. When the pressure goes up, substances are compressed. Liquids already have their atoms close together, so they are hard to compress. Many shock absorbers in cars compress liquids in sealed tubes. Liquid is the classical state of matter with a definite volume but no fixed shape. A liquid is made up of tiny vibrating particles of matter, such as atoms and molecules, held together by forces called chemical bonds. Water is, by far, the most common liquid on Earth. Liquid is one of the classical states of matter. Like a gas, a liquid is able to flow and take the shape of a container. Some liquids resist compression, while others can be compressed. Unlike a gas, a liquid does not disperse to fill every space of a container, and maintains a fairly constant density. A distinctive property of the liquid state is surface tension, leading to wetting phenomena. The density of a liquid is usually close to that of a solid, and much higher than in a gas. Therefore, liquid and solid are both termed condensed matter. On the other hand, as liquids and gases share the ability to flow, they are both called fluids. Although liquid water is abundant on

Earth, this state of matter is actually the least common in the known universe, because liquids require a relatively narrow temperature/pressure range to exist.

A liquid is matter in which the molecules are close together and move around slowly. Examples of liquids include drinking water, mercury at room temperature, and lava (molten rock). As the material is heated, the internal energy is increased and the atoms are no longer tied to their lattice positions but can move relative to each other although the atoms are still closely packed together. The forces of attraction between the molecules of a liquid are less than that in a solid and greater than that in a gas. A substance in liquid state does not have a defined shape; rather, its shape is defined by that of its container. When a liquid reaches its boiling point, it acquires a gaseous state. If heat is removed from a liquid by cooling it, it changes to a solid state on reaching its freezing point. A liquid will take the shape of its container with a free surface in a gravitational field. In microgravity, a liquid forms a ball inside a free surface. Regardless of gravity, a liquid has a fixed volume.

Gas is everywhere. There is something called the atmosphere. That's a big layer of gas that surrounds the Earth. Gases are random groups of atoms. In solids, atoms and molecules are compact and close together. Liquids have atoms that are spread out a little more. Gases are really spread out and the atoms and molecules are full of energy. They are bouncing around constantly. Gases can fill a container of any size or shape. It doesn't even matter how big the container is. The molecules still spread out to fill the whole space equally. That is one of their physical characteristics. Think about a balloon. No matter what shape you make the balloon, it will be evenly filled with the gas molecules. The molecules are spread equally throughout the entire balloon. Liquids can only fill the bottom of the container, while gases can fill it entirely. The shape of liquids is really dependent on the force of gravity, while gases are light enough to have a little more freedom to move. You might hear the term "vapor." Vapor and gas mean the same thing. The word vapor is used to describe gases that are usually found as liquids. Good examples are water (H2O) or mercury (Hg). Compounds like carbon dioxide (CO2) are usually gases at room temperature, so scientists will rarely talk about carbon dioxide vapor. Water and

mercury are liquids at room temperature, so they get the vapor title when they are in a gaseous phase.

Compressing Gases
Gases hold huge amounts of energy, and their molecules are spread out as much as possible. With very little pressure, when compared to liquids and solids, those molecules can be compressed. It happens all of the time. Combinations of pressure and decreasing temperature force gases into tubes that we use every day. You might see compressed air in a spray bottle or feel the carbon dioxide rush out of a can of soda. Those are both examples of gas forced into a smaller space than it would want, and the gas escapes the first chance it gets. The gas molecules move from an area of high pressure to one of low pressure. A gas is matter in which the molecules are widely separated, move around freely, and move at high speeds. Examples of solids include the gases we breathe (nitrogen, oxygen, and others), the helium in balloons, and steam (water vapor). Gas molecules are in a state of random motion. They exhibit the least intermolecular forces of attraction and hence gases lack a definite shape. The intermolecular distances are very large due to which the particles of gases are widely separated from each other. The density and viscosity of a gas is less as compared to solids and liquids. Gas molecules are highly vulnerable to the changes in temperature and pressure. When a gas is cooled, it acquires a liquid state, which on further cooling obtains a solid state. A gas fills its container, taking both the shape and the volume of the container. Gases are floating around you or trapped in bubbles. A gas mixture would contain a variety of pure gases much like the air. What distinguishes a gas from liquids and solids is the vast separation of the individual gas particles. This separation usually makes a colorless gas invisible to the human observer. The interaction of gas particles in the presence of electric and gravitational fields are considered negligible as indicated by the constant velocity vectors in the image. The gaseous state of matter is found between the liquid and plasma states, the latter of which provides the upper temperature boundary for gases.

Figure 1. The solid, liquid and gas phases of matter.

A plasma is a gas that is composed of free-floating ions (atoms stripped of some electrons positively charged) and free electrons (negatively charged). A plasma conducts electrical currents. Plasma was discovered by William Crookes in 1879. There are many different types of plasmas. There is plasma in stars (including our Sun); the solar wind in our Solar System is made of plasma Eventually, given enough heat, the electrons and nucleus become separated and into positively, charged ions and negatively charged electrons. This soup of ions and electrons is known as a plasma. A gas that is composed of freely floating ions is known as plasma. The free-floating ions are atoms, which obtain a positive charge on account of losing some of their electrons. The ions can also be in the form of free electrons. Thus, the positive and negative charges can move independently, making plasma molecules electrically conductive. Plasma does not have a defined shape and takes the form of gas-like clouds. As the properties of plasma are totally different from those of solids, liquids and gases, plasma is considered as a separate state of matter.