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14 December 2008

What's matter about?

So, let's start from the basics in order to understand what popular science books was telling all about superstrings, hyperspace and black holes.

First of all, we have to understand what is matter.

In physics, everything in the universe is classified into 2 very broad categories.

I. Matter
II. Energy

Matter, is simply anything in the universe that has mass. So, all object we touch or see is made up of matter. Water is made up of matter, same for iron, birds, mountains, humans and the stars.

Energy however is basically the thing that moves matter or contained in it.

Now, if you see the observable universe, you'll realise matter can be classified into a few categories. Mainly into 3 types. (there are actually more than that, the Bose-Einstein condensate and plasma are the extra two)

I. Solid

Solid ice, liquid water, gaseous steam (cloud)

For example, water has 3 states of matter. Each state is called a phase. Ice, liquid water and steam. Each phase can exist under a certain temperature and pressure. That is, the amount of energy that the water molecules possesses.

The phase diagram of water.
Horizontal axis - Temperature
Vertical axis - Pressure

Matter is made up of tiny particles we called atoms. For solid, the atoms are arranged in a lattice and the atoms vibrate without moving apart. Whereas in liquid phase, the atoms have enough energy to move around and for gaseous phase, the energy contained inside the atoms are great so they move in the container fast, bouncing into each other and the container itself.

So, what are atoms made of?

From high school, we know an atom has a nucleus and the nucleus are made up of protons and neutrons. The nucleus are surrounded be electrons moving in their respective 'orbits'.

Now, thanks to the advent of particle collider and high energy physics, we know that protons and neutrons consist of even tinier particles we called quarks.

Generally speaking, matter is what we see, touch and smell everyday and it has five states of matter. Namely; the Bose-Einstein condensate, Solid, Liquid, Gas and Plasma. All of them are made up of atoms and the atoms are made up of smaller constituents.

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