Matter is defined as anything that occupies space and has mass, and it is all around us. Solids and liquids are more obviously matter: We can see that they take up space, and their weight tells us that they have mass. Gases are also matter; if gases did not take up space, a balloon would stay collapsed rather than inflate when filled with gas.

Solids, liquids, and gases are the three states of matter commonly found on earth A solid is rigid and possesses a definite shape. A liquid flows and takes the shape of a container, except that it forms a flat or slightly curved upper surface when acted upon by gravity. (In zero gravity, liquids assume a spherical shape.) Both liquid and solid samples have volumes that are very nearly independent of pressure. A gas takes both the shape and volume of its container.

A fourth state of matter, plasma, occurs naturally in the interiors of stars. A plasma is a gaseous state of matter that contains appreciable numbers of electrically charged particles . The presence of these charged particles imparts unique properties to plasmas that justify their classification as a state of matter distinct from gases. In addition to stars, plasmas are found in some other high-temperature environments (both natural and man-made), such as lightning strikes, certain television screens, and specialized analytical instruments used to detect trace amounts of metals.

The Classification of Matter

Physical and Chemical Properties

The properties that chemists use to describe matter fall into two general categories. Physical properties are characteristics that describe matter. They include characteristics such as size, shape, color, and mass. Chemical properties are characteristics that describe how matter changes its chemical structure or composition. An example of a chemical property is flammability—a material’s ability to burn—because burning (also known as combustion) changes the chemical composition of a material.

Elements and Compounds

Any sample of matter that has the same physical and chemical properties throughout the sample is called a substance. There are two types of substances. A substance that cannot be broken down into chemically simpler components is an element. Aluminum, which is used in soda cans, is an element. A substance that can be broken down into chemically simpler components (because it has more than one element) is a compound . Water is a compound composed of the elements hydrogen and oxygen. Today, there are about 118 elements in the known universe. In contrast, scientists have identified tens of millions of different compounds to date.


A material composed of two or more substances is a mixture. In a mixture, the individual substances maintain their chemical identities. Many mixtures are obvious combinations of two or more substances, such as a mixture of sand and water. Such mixtures are called heterogeneous mixtures. In some mixtures, the components are so intimately combined that they act like a single substance (even though they are not). Mixtures with a consistent composition throughout are called homogeneous mixtures (or solutions). Sugar dissolved in water is an example of a solution. A metal alloy, such as steel, is an example of a solid solution. Air, a mixture of mainly nitrogen and oxygen, is a gaseous solution.



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