Solids, Gases, and Liquids

Solids, liquids, and gases (or gasses) are the three basic states of matter. Plasma is the 4th and Bose-Einstein condensates is the 5th, but most people are comfortable knowing the basic three. The easiest way to remember the difference between the three is to think of water. Note that water is essential for almost every living thing to exist.


We’ll start with water as a liquid because no matter where you live you will be familiar with this state of matter. It chemical composition is H2O. This chemically represents two Hydrogen (H) atoms and one Oxygen (O) atom that are chemically bonded together to form what we see, smell, touch, taste, and hear as water. When you stop and think about how amazing it is that this liquid chemical composition can actually be heard, you should appreciate water and Chemistry more. You can’t hear iron or sodium.


Water as a solid, ice, is the next topic of discussion. The chemical composition is the same, but it has a crystalline structure. We often hear about ice crystals that form in the winter, and snow is a crystalline structure of water. There are two crystal shapes of ice, hexagonal (5 sides) and cubic or diamond shape. But just holding a piece of solid water in your hand shows that this structure is easily changed from the heat of your body.


Finally, there is water as a gas, which is in the form of water vapor. The simplest way to see water vapor is to heat a pot of water to boiling and watch the steam rise. Once again, heat is the dynamic that is responsible for changing water from one state of matter to another. You actually breathe in water vapor from the air around you.


So what have we learned here? That Chemistry is really not that hard when you look at the world around you and keep things simple. Sure, there is a lot more to Chemistry than just water, and to give you fair warning there is also a significant amount of Math involved when moving forward to Advanced Chemistry topics. But we are just covering the basics here, so there is no need to panic. You don’t have to worry about being Einstein because he was much more into Physics than Chemistry.


Where Chemistry becomes challenging is understanding the various interactions of the elements at an atomic level. At the beginning we discuss about what we can see with the naked eye, but equipment such as electron microscopes are required to start to solve some of the more challenging aspects of the science. I don’t think any of you have an electron microscope at home, so going to a laboratory is a trip you will have to take to see the real challenges offered by Chemistry.