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Chemistry LibreTexts

1.2: States of Matter

  • Page ID
    258817
  • Learning Objectives

    • To describe the solid, liquid, and gas phases of matter.

    Water can take many forms. At low temperatures (below \(0^\text{o} \text{C}\)), it is a solid. When at "normal" temperatures (between \(0^\text{o} \text{C}\) and \(100^\text{o} \text{C}\)), it is a liquid. While at temperatures above \(100^\text{o} \text{C}\), water is a gas (steam). The state the water is in depends upon the temperature. Each state (solid, liquid, and gas) has its own unique set of physical properties.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Matter is usually classified into three classical states. From left to right: quartz (solid), water (liquid), nitrogen dioxide (gas).

    Matter typically exists in one of three states: solid, liquid, or gas and these different states of matter have different properties (Table \(\PageIndex{1}\)):

    • 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. Forces between atoms or molecules are not strong enough to hold them together.
    • 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. Forces between atoms or molecules are strong enough to keep the molecules relatively close together but not strong enough to prevent them from moving past 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. Forces between atoms or molecules are strong enough to keep the molecules together and to prevent them from moving past one another.

    The state a given substance exhibits is a physical property. Some substances exist as gases at room temperature (oxygen and carbon dioxide), while others, like water and mercury metal, exist as liquids. Most metals exist as solids at room temperature. All substances can exist in any of these three states. Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\) shows the differences among solids, liquids, and gases at the molecular level. A solid has definite volume and shape, a liquid has a definite volume but no definite shape, and a gas has neither a definite volume nor shape (Table \(\PageIndex{1}\)).

    A beaker labeled solid contains a cube of red matter and says has fixed shape and volume. A beaker labeled liquid contains a brownish-red colored liquid. This beaker says takes shape of container, forms horizontal surfaces, has fixed volume. The beaker labeled gas is filled with a light brown gas. This beaker says expands to fill container.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): The three most common states or phases of matter are solid, liquid, and gas. (CC BY-4.0; OpenStax)

    These three descriptions each imply that the matter has certain physical properties when in these states. A solid has a definite shape and a definite volume. Liquids ordinarily have a definite volume but not a definite shape; they take the shape of their containers. Gases have neither a definite shape nor a definite volume, and they expand to fill their containers. We encounter matter in each phase every day; in fact, we regularly encounter water in all three phases: ice (solid), water (liquid), and steam (gas).

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Characteristics of each Phase of Matter
      Gas Liquid Solid

    Shape

    no definite shape (takes the shape of its container)

    no definite shape (takes the shape of its container)

    definite shape (rigid)

    Volume

    particles move in random motion with little or no attraction to each other

    has definite volume

    definite volume

    Mobility

    particles move in random motion with little or no attraction to each other

    particles are free to move over each other, but are still attracted to each other

    particles vibrate around fixed axes

    Compressibility

    highly compressible

    weakly compressible

    weakly compressible

    Adding energy to matter gives its atoms or molecules the ability to resist some of the forces holding them together. For example, heating ice to its melting point gives its molecules enough energy to move. The ice melts and becomes liquid water. Similarly, heating liquid water to its boiling point gives its molecules enough energy to pull apart from one another so they no longer have contact. The liquid water vaporizes and becomes water vapor.

    State of Matter Depends on the External Conditions

    The temperature of the melting and boiling points depend on the identity of the substance and the atmospheric pressure. Each substance has its own boiling and melting points that depend on the properties of the substance. As an example, the values for water are given in Table \(\PageIndex{2}\). Note how the boiling point of water varies greatly with pressure.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Boiling point of water as a function of pressure
    Altitude (ft) Pressure (atm) Boiling Point (oC)
    -500 1.05 100.5
    0 1.00 100
    4000 0.892 96
    7000 0.797 93

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Isopropyl alcohol is a colorless, flammable chemical compound with a strong odor. Its melting point is -89°C and it boiling point is 82.5°C. Is isopropyl alcohol a solid, liquid or gas at room temperature (25°C).

    Solution

    Since room temperature (25°C) is above the melting point of isopropyl alcohol (-89°C), but lower than its boiling point (82.5°C), it is a liquid at room temperature.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Freon-12 is used as a refrigerant and aerosol spray propellant. Its melting point is -157.7°C and it boiling point is -29.8 °C. Is isopropyl alcohol a solid, liquid or gas at room temperature (25°C).

    Answer

    Freon-12 is a gas at room temperature

    Contributors and Attributions

    • CK-12 Foundation by Sharon Bewick, Richard Parsons, Therese Forsythe, Shonna Robinson, and Jean Dupon.

    • Allison Soult, Ph.D. (Department of Chemistry, University of Kentucky)

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