5.1: The Law of Conservation of Matter

Skills to Develop

• Correctly define a law as it pertains to science.
• State the law of conservation of matter.

In science, a law is a general statement that explains a large number of observations. Before being accepted, a law must be verified many times under many conditions. Laws are therefore considered the highest form of scientific knowledge and are generally thought to be inviolable. Scientific laws form the core of scientific knowledge. One scientific law that provides the foundation for understanding in chemistry is the law of conservation of matter. It states that in any given system that is closed to the transfer of matter (in and out), the amount of matter in the system stays constant. A concise way of expressing this law is to say that the amount of matter in a system is conserved.

With the development of more precise ideas on elements, compounds and mixtures, scientists began to investigate how and why substances react. French chemist A. Lavoisier laid the foundation to the scientific investigation of matter by describing that substances react by following certain laws. These laws are called the laws of chemical combination. These eventually formed the basis of Dalton's Atomic Theory of Matter.

Law of Conservation of Mass

According to this law, during any physical or chemical change, the total mass of the products remains equal to the total mass of the reactants.

$\overbrace{\underbrace{\ce{HgO (s)}}_{\text{100 g}}}^{\text{Mercuric oxide}} \rightarrow \underbrace{\overbrace{\ce{Hg (l) }}^{\text{Mercury}}}_{\text{92.6 g}} + \underbrace{\overbrace{\ce{O2 (g)}}^{\text{Oxygen}}}_{\text{7.4 g}}$

The law of conservation of mass is also known as the "law of indestructibility of matter."

Example $$\PageIndex{1}$$

If heating 10 grams of $$\ce{CaCO3}$$ produces 4.4 g of $$\ce{CO2}$$ and 5.6 g of $$\ce{CaO}$$, show that these observations are in agreement with the law of conservation of mass.

A sample of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Image used with permission (Public Domain; Walkerma).

SOLUTION

• Mass of the reactants: $$10 \,g$$
• Mass of the products: $$4.4 \,g+ 5.6\, g = 10\, g$$.

Because the mass of the reactants is equal to the mass of the products, the observations are in agreement with the law of conservation of mass.

What does this mean for chemistry? In any chemical change, one or more initial substances change into a different substance or substances. Both the initial and final substances are composed of atoms because all matter is composed of atoms. According to the law of conservation of matter, matter is neither created nor destroyed, so we must have the same number and type of atoms after the chemical change as were present before the chemical change.

Before looking at explicit examples of the law of conservation of matter, we need to examine the method chemists use to represent chemical changes.

Exercise $$\PageIndex{1}$$

1. What is the law of conservation of matter?
2. How does the law of conservation of matter apply to chemistry?

The law of conservation of matter states that in any given system that is closed to the transfer of matter, the amount of matter in the system stays constant

The law of conservation of matter says that in chemical reactions, the total mass of the products must equal the total mass of the reactants.

Summary

The amount of matter in a closed system is conserved.

Exercises

1. Express the law of conservation of matter in your own words.

2. Explain why the concept of conservation of matter is considered a scientific law.