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Overview of the Study of Matter

By Ron Kurtus (revised 3 May 2013)

Physics concerns the study of matter how the various forms of energy affects the matter.

In the study of matter, there are theories about what it 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.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions. Useful tool: Units Conversion



Theories of matter

Originally, matter was defined as something that takes up space and has weight. This is all the stuff around us. It took a while for scientists to realize that air and other gases were also matter. The scientific definition of matter is that it is something that takes up space and has mass (instead of weight).

On closer examination of matter, at the microscopic lever, it was found that matter was not continuous but was made up of tiny particles. This brought about the Molecular Theory of Matter and then the Atomic Theory of Matter, which states that matter consisted of tiny particles called molecules and atoms.

It was then 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.

After these were considered indivisible, it was 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.

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.

Particles of matter

Starting with everyday objects, you can examine them closely with instruments to see that they are made up of smaller and smaller particles.

Known particles of matter—in order of decreasing size—are:

Fundamental particles of matter are leptons and quarks. These particles are considered to be indivisible.

The electron is in the lepton classification and is thus a fundamental particle. Protons and neutrons are made up of quarks.

States of matter

A quantity of matter can exist in several different states or phases, depending on its temperature and external pressure on the material. These states are:

Liquids and gases are considered fluids. They have a number of characteristics in common.

There are also some exotic states of matter.

Summary

In the study of matter, there are theories about what it 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.


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Physics topics

Overview of the Study of Matter



Matter topics

Particles of Matter

Density

States of Matter

Fluids



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