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Chemistry LibreTexts

6.1: Solids, Liquids, and Gases

  • Page ID
    152168
  • Learning Objectives

    • Describe the different states of matter.
    • Describe the different changes that occur between solid, liquid, and gas.

    Matter can exist in one of several different states, including a gas, liquid, or solid state. The amount of energy in molecules of matter determines the state of matter.

    • A gas is a state of matter in which atoms or molecules have enough energy to move freely. The molecules come into contact with one another only when they randomly collide.
    • A liquid is a state of matter in which atoms or molecules are constantly in contact but have enough energy to keep changing positions relative to one another.
    • A solid is a state of matter in which atoms or molecules do not have enough energy to move. They are constantly in contact and in fixed positions relative to one another.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): States of Matter. All three containers contain a substance with the same mass, but the substances are in different states. In the left-hand container, the substance is a gas, which has spread to fill its container. It takes both the shape and volume of the container. In the middle container, the substance is a liquid, which has spread to take the shape of its container but not the volume. In the right-hand container, the substance is a solid, which takes neither the shape nor the volume of its container.

    In Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\), all three phases are shown at the submicroscopic level in animations. Notice how the movement and freedom of molecules steadily increases as attractive forces decrease from solid to liquid to gas phase.

    SOLID LIQUID GAS

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\) Animation of all three phases at the submicroscopic level.

    The change from solid to liquid usually does not significantly change the volume of a substance. However, the change from a liquid to a gas significantly increases the volume of a substance, by a factor of 1,000 or more. Figures \(\PageIndex{3}\) and \(\PageIndex{4}\) show the differences among solids, liquids, and gases at the molecular level, while Table \(\PageIndex{1}\) lists the different characteristics of these states.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\) Characteristics of the Three States of Matter
    Characteristic Solid Liquid Gas
    shape definite indefinite indefinite
    volume definite definite indefinite
    relative intermolecular interaction strength strong moderate weak
    relative particle positions in contact and fixed in place in contact but not fixed not in contact, random positions

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    What state or states of matter does each statement, describe?

    1. This state has a definite volume.
    2. This state has no definite shape.
    3. This state allows the individual particles to move about while remaining in contact.

    Solution

    1. This statement describes either the liquid state or the solid state.
    2. This statement describes either the liquid state or the gas state.
    3. This statement describes the liquid state.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    What state or states of matter does each statement describe?

    1. This state has individual particles in a fixed position with regard to each other.
    2. This state has individual particles far apart from each other in space.
    3. This state has indefinite shape.
    Answer a

    solid

    Answer b

    gas

    Answer c

    liquid or gas

    Phase Changes

    A phase change is a physical process in which a substance goes from one phase to another. Usually the change occurs when adding or removing heat at a particular temperature, known as the melting point or the boiling point of the substance. The melting point is the temperature at which the substance goes from a solid to a liquid (or from a liquid to a solid). The boiling point is the temperature at which a substance goes from a liquid to a gas (or from a gas to a liquid). The nature of the phase change depends on the direction of the heat transfer. Heat going into a substance changes it from a solid to a liquid or a liquid to a gas. Removing heat from a substance changes a gas to a liquid or a liquid to a solid.

    Two key points are worth emphasizing. First, at a substance’s melting point or boiling point, two phases can exist simultaneously. Take water (H2O) as an example. On the Celsius scale, H2O has a melting point of 0°C and a boiling point of 100°C. At 0°C, both the solid and liquid phases of H2O can coexist. However, if heat is added, some of the solid H2O will melt and turn into liquid H2O. If heat is removed, the opposite happens: some of the liquid H2O turns into solid H2O. A similar process can occur at 100°C: adding heat increases the amount of gaseous H2O, while removing heat increases the amount of liquid H2O (Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\)).

    Heating-Curve.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Heating curve for water. As heat is added to solid water, the temperature increases until it reaches 0 °C, the melting point. At this point, the phase change, added heat goes into changing the state from a solid to liquid. Only when this phase change is complete, the temperature can increase. (CC BY 3.0 Unported; Community College Consortium for Bioscience Credentials).

    Water is a good substance to use as an example because many people are already familiar with it. Other substances have melting points and boiling points as well.

    Second, as shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\), the temperature of a substance does not change as the substance goes from one phase to another. In other words, phase changes are isothermal (isothermal means “constant temperature”). Again, consider H2O as an example. Solid water (ice) can exist at 0°C. If heat is added to ice at 0°C, some of the solid changes phase to make liquid, which is also at 0°C. Remember, the solid and liquid phases of H2O can coexist at 0°C. Only after all of the solid has melted into liquid does the addition of heat change the temperature of the substance.

    Summary of Phase Changes

    All of the changes of state that occur between solid, liquid, and gas are summarized in the diagram in the figure below. Freezing is the opposite of melting, and both represent the equilibrium between the solid and liquid states. Evaporation occurs when a liquid turns to a gas. Condensation is the opposite of vaporization, and both represent the equilibrium between the liquid and gas states. Deposition is the opposite of sublimation, and both represent the equilibrium between the solid and gas states.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Solid, liquid, and gas states with the terms for each change of state that occurs between them.

    Summary

    • Solids, liquids, and gases are different phases that have their own unique properties.
    • A change of state (or phase chnage) can be brought about by putting heat into a system or removing it from the system.

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