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Chemistry LibreTexts

3.1: In Your Room

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  • Matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space; this includes atoms and anything made up of these, but not other energy phenomena or waves such as light or sound. While this simple definition is easily applied, the way people view matter is often broken down into two characteristic length scales: the macroscopic and the microscopic.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): A typical American university and college dormitory room in 2002. Image used with permission (CC BY-SA 3.0; Raul654).

    The macroscopic scale is the length scale on which objects or phenomena are large enough to be visible almost practically with the naked eye, without magnifying optical instruments. Everything that one can see, touch and handle in the dorm room of Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) is in the macroscopic scale and to describe each of these objects only few macroscopic properties are required. However, each of these items can be decomposed into smaller microscopic scale properties.

    The microscopic scale is the scale of objects and events smaller than those that can easily be seen by the naked eye, requiring a lens or microscope to see them clearly. All the everyday objects that we can bump into, touch or squeeze are ultimately composed of atoms. This ordinary atomic matter is in turn made up of interacting subatomic particles—usually a nucleus of protons and neutrons, and a cloud of orbiting electrons. Because of this, a large number of variables are needed to describe such a system which complicates the characterization.

    Matter vs. MAss

    Matter should not be confused with mass, as the two are not the same in modern physics. Matter is itself a physical substance of which systems may be composed, while mass is not a substance but rather a quantitative property of matter and other substances or systems.


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