The Science of Stages of Matter

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To understand the workings of compressed air, a basic introduction to physics is helpful. We'll start by explaining the structure of matter. You'll then learn more about the four different stages of matter and its molecules.

What makes up matter?

the different states of matter

All matter, be it in gaseous, liquid or solid form, is composed of atoms. Atoms are therefore the basic building blocks of matter, though they nearly always appear as part of a molecule.

A molecule is a number of atoms grouped together with other atoms of the same or a different kind. Atoms consist of a dense nucleus made up of protons and neutrons surrounded by a number of small, lightweight and rapidly-spinning electrons.

Other building blocks exist; however, they are not stable. All of these particles are characterized by four properties:

  • electrical charge,
  • rest mass,
  • mechanical momentum,
  • and magnetic momentum.

The number of protons in the nucleus is equal to the atom's atomic number. The total number of protons and the number of neutrons are approximately equal to the atom's total mass since electrons add nearly no mass.

This information is found on the periodic chart. The electron shell contains the same number of electrons as there are protons in the nucleus. This means that an atom is generally electrically neutral.

Did you know?

The Danish physicist, Niels Bohr, introduced a build-up model of an atom in 1913. He demonstrated that atoms can only occur in a so-called stationary state and with a determined energy. If the atom transforms from one energy state into another, a radiation quantum is emitted. This is known as a photon.

These different transitions are manifested in the form of light with different wavelengths. In a spectrograph, they appear as lines in the atom's spectrum of lines.

What are the four stages of matter?

Atoms held together by chemical bonding are called molecules. These are so small that 1 mm3 of air at atmospheric pressure contains approx. 2.55 x 1016 molecules.

In principle, all matter can exist in four states,

  • solid,
  • liquid,
  • gaseous,
  • and plasma.

These are the different stages of matter.

In the solid state, the molecules are tightly packed in a lattice structure with strong bonding. At temperatures above absolute zero, some degree of molecular movement occurs. In this state, there is a vibration around a balanced position, which becomes faster as the temperature rises.

When a substance in a solid state is heated so much, molecules move and break loose. The substance then melts and transforms into a liquid. If the liquid is heated further, the bonding of the molecules becomes broken, and the liquid substance enters a gaseous state. It then expands in all directions and mixes with the other gasses in the room.

When gas molecules cool, they lose velocity and bond to each other again to produce condensation. However, if the gas molecules are heated further, they are broken down into individual sub-particles and form a plasma of electrons and atomic nuclei.

Impact on compressed air systems

This article provides a basic understanding of what makes up matter, and how it changes. It's useful since compressed air systems experience rapid temperature changes, causing particles to shift from gas to liquid.

If you'd like more information on how this specifically impacts your equipment, we recommend you read about drying systems. With any air compressor, it's important to avoid as much moisture buildup as possible.

Test your knowledge! Can you answer the question?

What is the structure of matter?

The structure of matter refers to the way that atoms and molecules are arranged in different substances. Matter can exist in three main states: solid, liquid, and gas. The structure of matter can vary depending on its state and the type of atoms or molecules that make it up.

In solids, atoms are tightly packed together and vibrate in place. In liquids, atoms are more spread out and move around each other. In gases, atoms are very spread out and move freely in all directions. The study of the structure of matter is a fundamental part of chemistry and physics.

If you have any further questions, our team of compressed air experts are available to assist. Feel free to get in contact. 

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an illustration about compressed air in the atlas copco air wiki.

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