State of matter

In physics, a state of matter is one of the distinct forms in which matter can exist. Four states of matter are observable in everyday life: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Many intermediate states are known to exist, such as liquid crystal, and some states only exist under extreme conditions, such as Bose–Einstein condensates, neutron-degenerate matter, and quark–gluon plasma, which only occur, respectively, in situations of extreme cold, extreme density, and extremely high energy. For a complete list of all exotic states of matter, see the list of states of matter.

The four common states of matter. Clockwise from top left, they are solid, liquid, plasma, and gas, represented by an ice sculpture, a drop of water, electrical arcing from a Tesla coil, and the air around clouds, respectively.

Historically, the distinction is made based on qualitative differences in properties. Matter in the solid state maintains a fixed volume and shape, with component particles (atoms, molecules or ions) close together and fixed into place. Matter in the liquid state maintains a fixed volume, but has a variable shape that adapts to fit its container. Its particles are still close together but move freely. Matter in the gaseous state has both variable volume and shape, adapting both to fit its container. Its particles are neither close together nor fixed in place. Matter in the plasma state has variable volume and shape, and contains neutral atoms as well as a significant number of ions and electrons, both of which can move around freely.

The term "phase" is sometimes used as a synonym for state of matter, but a system can contain several immiscible phases of the same state of matter.


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