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States of Matter: Solids, Liquids, Gases, & Plasma

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  1. 0:08 Gas
  2. 1:00 Liquid
  3. 2:02 Solid
  4. 3:45 Plasma
  5. 4:24 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Amy Meyers

Amy holds a Master of Science. She has taught science at the high school and college levels.

Learn the four states of matter in the universe: solid, liquid, gas and plasma. Learn about the differences in shape and volume among the four states, which of the states is the most common and why plasma conducts electricity.

Gas

All matter exists in one of four states - gas, liquid, solid and plasma.

Open a bottle of perfume in one corner of a room, then move to the opposite corner and wait. In only a few minutes, you will be able to smell that perfume. Why is that? Because air is a gas and the perfume molecules evaporate into a gas and disperse into the gaseous air. Gases consist of tiny particles or molecules that are really far apart relative to their size. These molecules have so much room to move around that pretty soon the two gases have mixed, and the perfume has spread throughout the room.

Liquid molecules are more tightly compacted than gas molecules.
Molecules Liquid Gas

Gas is a form of matter that does not have a definite volume or shape. Gases have low density compared to the same substance in other states. Gases are also able to diffuse easily as shown in the perfume example.

Liquid

Now look at a bottle of water. What properties do you know about that liquid? You can tell that the liquid takes the shape of the bottle, and you probably know that if you pour the liquid water into a different container, it will take the shape of the new container. You also probably know that no matter how hard you push on the water, you can never change its volume. Whether it is in a tall, narrow bottle or spread out over a table top, liquid has a definite volume, but not a definite shape. Contrast this with gas, which has no definite fixed shape or volume.

In a liquid, the molecules are more tightly packed but can still move and flow past each other. Liquids are able to diffuse and mix with other liquids, but it is a slower mixing than in gases. Another property common to all liquids is surface tension. Surface tension is a force of attraction that keeps molecules on the surface of a liquid together, causing tension. This is why bugs can walk on water.

Solid

Higher density solids have a definite shape and volume.
Solid Properties

Now look at a block of wood. Try to push on it. Have an elephant stand on it. What can you say about it? You can say that this solid block of wood has a definite volume and a definite shape. It doesn't change shape even with the elephant standing on it - unless of course he disintegrates it, but let's pretend this is a baby elephant. These are characteristics of a solid - it has a definite volume and shape. A solid has molecules too, they are just so tightly packed that they have limited movement and are incompressible and hold their volume and shape. In general, substances are most dense in the solid state.

Solids have a definite shape and volume. They also have high densities and are incompressible. Solids do not diffuse well, but they can diffuse. Their diffusion rate is millions of times slower than diffusion in liquids.

Think of it like people in the stands at a baseball game. Early in the season, the team isn't doing well, and few people buy tickets, so the stands are pretty empty. The people have a lot of room to freely move around. This is like the molecules in a gas. As the season goes on, the team does better and moves into first place. Now the stands are mostly filled. People are everywhere, but there is still room to move and go get a hot dog. This is similar to the molecules in a liquid. They are tightly packed, but have room to slide past each other. Now the team has made the World Series. The stands are jam packed. There is absolutely no room to move, and you can't get out of your seat to buy a hot dog. This is the equivalent of the molecules in a solid. They are packed so tightly together that it is very hard to move.

Plasma

Examples of human-made plasma
Man Made Plasma Examples

The last form of matter is plasma. It is the most common form of matter in the universe, both by mass and volume. Our sun is a ball of plasma. Although it isn't found naturally on Earth very often, human-made plasma has become commonplace. Think of neon signs or plasma TVs. Plasma is a gas that has gotten so hot and has so much energy in it that negatively charged free electrons and positively charged ions exist together in it. These free electrons mean that plasma easily conducts energy. Plasma, like a gas, has neither a definite volume nor shape.

Lesson Summary

All matter comes in one of four states, and each has its own characteristics.

Gas has no definite shape or volume, is easily compressible, has a very low density and diffuses quite easily.

Liquid has a definite volume but no definite shape. It is incompressible, diffuses fairly easily, although not as easily as gas, and has a unique quality called surface tension.

Solids have definite shapes and volumes. They have high density and are incompressible. They do diffuse but very, very slowly.

Plasmas are similar to gas, with no definite volume or shape, but contain so much energy that the electrons in the atoms are set free, which enables the plasma to easily conduct energy.

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