Basic States of Matter Help

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Sep 5, 2011

Introduction to Basic States of Matter

Thousands of years ago, in the time of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, scientists believed that all things in the material universe consisted of combinations of four “elements”: earth , water , air , and fire . According to this theory, different proportions of these four “elements” give materials their unique properties. This was used to explain why gold is different from salt, which in turn is different from oil. This seems primitive to us, but the ancients had keen minds. They were especially good at observing things and at seeing the “big picture.”

It is interesting to speculate on what might have happened if those scientists had been allowed to expand on their knowledge for all the time between, say, 100 and today. However, such unimpeded progress did not take place. After the Roman civilization declined, the entire Western world came under a sort of collective trance in which superstition and religious dogma prevailed. At its worst, this regime was so strict that a philosopher, mathematician, or scientist who voiced an opinion different from the conventional wisdom was punished severely. Some were even put to death.

During and after the Renaissance, when scientific reasoning became a respected mode of thought once again, physical scientists discovered that there are many more than four elements and that even these elements are not the fundamental constituents of matter. However, there are three basic states of matter recognized by scientists today, and these are analogous, in a crude sort of way, to three of the original “elements.” These states, also called phases , are known as solid (the analog of earth), liquid (the analog of water), and gaseous .

Practice problems of these concepts can be found at: Basic States Of Matter Practice Test

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