States of Matter

Five States of Matter: Condensate, Solid, Liquid, Gas, Plasma
We look at five states of matter on the site. Solids, liquids, gases, plasmas, and Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC) are different states that have different physical properties. Each of these states is also known as a phase. Elements and compounds can move from one phase to another when specific physical conditions change. For example, when the temperature of a system goes up, the matter in the system becomes more excited and active. If enough energy is placed in a system, a phase change may occur as the matter moves to a more active state.

Phase Changes: Energy from a stove heats up liquid water and creates steam (gas). Think about it this way. Let’s say you have a glass of water (H2O). When the temperature of the water goes up, the molecules get more excited and bounce around a lot more. If you give a liquid water molecule enough energy, it escapes the liquid phase and becomes a gas.

Have you ever noticed that you can smell a turkey dinner after it starts to heat up? As the energy of the molecules inside the turkey heat up, they escape as a gas. You are able to smell those volatile molecules that are mixed in the air.

It’s About the Physical

"Phase" describes a physical state of matter. The key word to notice is physical. Things only move from one phase to another by physical means. If energy is added (like increasing the temperature) or if energy is taken away (like freezing something), you have created a physical change.

Adding energy can create a phase change in matter.
When molecules move from one phase to another they are still the same substance. There is water vapor above a pot of boiling water. That vapor (or gas) can condense and become a drop of water in the cooler air. If you put that liquid drop in the freezer, it would become a solid piece of ice. No matter what physical state it was in, it was always water. It always had the same chemical properties.

On the other hand, a chemical change would build or break the chemical bonds in the water molecules. If you added a carbon (C) atom, you would have formaldehyde (H2CO). If you added an oxygen (O) atom, you would create hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). Neither new compound is anything like the original water molecule. Generally, changes in the physical state do not lead to any chemical change in molecules.

States of Matter Examples

Cartoon image of ocean wave.

A Liquid Ocean

There are many liquids around you. Oceans, rivers, lakes, and rivers are good examples of liquid water (H2O). Planetary scientists are looking for other planets that have liquid water, but planets require very specific conditions to have water as we know it.
Cartoon image of ceramic bowl.

Solids in Ceramics

Ceramic bowls are a great example of a solid. Did you know that many of the items found from ancient civilizations are pieces of pottery? Ceramic materials are usually made from soft clay that is heated up and then slowly cooled. The clay becomes very hard because water (H2O) is removed and the chemical bonds inside the clay change.
Cartoon image of the Sun.

Plasmas on the Sun

Plasmas are highly energized gases that have lost their electrons. Stars, including the Sun, are covered in plasma. Hydrogen (H) and helium (He) ions float around the Sun with their electrons moving freely.
Cartoon image of balloons.

Gases in Balloons

Balloons aren’t technically gases. They are little pieces of rubber. However, the helium (He) inside the balloon is a gas. Helium is noble gas that has a very low atomic mass. In its gaseous state, it is lighter than air. That lightness is why balloons float.

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Liquid Lakes on Titan (NASA/JPL Video)

Related Links
Chem4Kids: States of Matter
Chem4Kids: Chemical Reactions
Chem4Kids: Atomic Structure
Biology4Kids: Scientific Method
Physics4Kids: Heat Expansion
Geography4Kids: Earth Structure
Cosmos4Kids: Vacuum of Space

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