Matter – definition, concept, types, states of matter, characteristics, and properties

Matter is everything that surrounds the physical world . With our five senses we can recognize or perceive various types of it. Some are easily seen as a stone, which can be seen and held in hand, others are less easily recognized or cannot be perceived by one of the senses; for example, the air. This is defined as everything that has mass and weight , occupies a place in space, impresses our senses and experiences the phenomenon of inertia ( resistance that it offers to change position).

What is matter

Its definition, according to physics, is everything that makes up or occupies a region in space-time , or, as its etymological origin describes it, it is the substance of which all things are made. In other words, the concept of matter establishes that it is everything present in the Universe that has mass and volume, that can be measured, perceived, quantified, observed, that occupies a space-time place and that is governed by the laws of nature.

In addition to this, it is present in objects, has energy (the ability of bodies to do work, such as moving or changing from one state to another), which allows it to propagate in space-time (which is a concept of space and time combined: which object occupies a certain space at a specific point on the timeline). It is important to note that not all forms of this that have energy, have mass.

There is matter in everything, since it appears in different physical states; therefore, it can exist both in a hammer and inside a balloon. There are also different types; so a living body is composed of it, as well as an inanimate object.

The definition of matter also indicates that it is composed of atoms , which are an infinitesimal unit of it, which was thought to be the smallest, until it was discovered that in turn, it is made up of other smaller particles (the electrons, which have a negative charge; protons, which have a positive charge; and neutrons , which have neutral or no charge).

There are 118 types of these elements , which are mentioned in the Periodic Table of the Elements, which are substances of a single type of atom, while compounds are substances that are made up of two or more atoms, for example, water. (hydrogen and oxygen). In turn, molecules are part of it, and are defined as groups of atoms with an established configuration, whose bond is chemical or electromagnetic.

An object or anything in the world can be made up of different types of matter , such as a cake or a grain of salt, and different kinds of materials can be obtained if their physical state changes.

This modification can be physical or chemical. Physical modification occurs when the appearance of the object is altered or transformed, while chemistry occurs when there is an alteration in its atomic composition.

It is also ranked according to its level of complexity . In the case of living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex, in the classification of matter, we have:

  • Subatomic: particles that make up the atom: protons (+), neutrons (no charge) and electrons (-).
  • Atomic: the minimum unit of matter..
  • Molecular: groups of two or more atoms, which can be of the same or different type, and form a different class of matter.
  • Cellular: minimum unit of all living organisms, made up of complex molecules.
  • Tissue: group of cells whose function is the same.
  • Organs: composition of tissues in a member that fulfills some function.
  • System or apparatus: composition of organs and tissues that work together for a specific function.
  • Organism: it is the set of organs, systems, cells, of a living being, the individual. In this case, although it is part of a group of many similar ones, it is unique with a DNA that is different from all the others of its species.
  • Population: similar organisms that are grouped and live in the same space.
  • Species: the combination of all populations of organisms of the same type.
  • Ecosystem: connection of different species through food chains in a particular environment.
  • Biome: groups of ecosystems within a region.
  • Biosphere: set of all living beings and the environment in which they are related.

Characteristics of matter


The characteristics of matter vary according to the physical state in which they occur, that is, according to the formation and structure that make up the atoms and how united they are to each other. Each and every one of them will determine how a body, object, substance or mass looks or interacts. But there are characteristics that are common to everything that is composed of it, and they are the following:

1. They present different states of aggregation of matter: solid, liquid, gas and plasma. In addition to these physical states of matter, there are two less well-known states, which are superfluid (which do not have viscosity and can flow infinitely without any resistance in a closed circuit) and supersolid (matter that is solid and liquid at the same time). same time), and it is thought that helium can present all states of matter.

2. They have mass, which would be the amount of matter in a given volume or area.

3. They present weight, which represents the extent to which gravity will exert pressure on said object; that is, how much attraction force has the earth on it.

4. They show temperature, which is the amount of heat energy present in them. Between two bodies with the same temperature, there will be no transfer of the same, therefore, it will remain the same in both; On the other hand, in two bodies with different temperatures, the hotter one will transfer its heat energy to the colder one.

5. They have volume, which represents the amount of space that they occupy in a given place, and is given by length, mass, porosity, among other attributes.

6. They have impenetrability , which means that each body can occupy one space and only one space at a time, therefore, when an object tries to occupy the space of another, one of these two will be displaced.

7. They have density , which is the ratio of the mass to the volume of the object. From highest to lowest density in the states, there are: solids, liquids and gases.

8. There is homogeneous and heterogeneous matter. In the first case, it is almost impossible to identify what it is composed of, even with the help of a microscope; while in the second, you can easily observe the elements that are in it and differentiate them.

9. It has compressibility , which is the ability to reduce its volume if it is subjected to external pressures, for example, temperature.

In addition to this, changes in the state of matter can be highlighted, which are those processes in which the state of aggregation of a body changes its molecular structure to transform into another state. They are part of the intensive properties of matter, and these are:

  • Fusion. It is the process in which matter in a solid state is transformed into a liquid state through the application of heat energy.
  • Freezing and solidification . It is when a liquid becomes solid through a process of cooling it, making its structure much stronger and more resistant.
  • Sublimation . It is the process in which, by adding heat energy, the atoms of certain solid bodies will move quickly to become gas without going through a previous liquid state.
  • Deposition or crystallization. By removing heat from a gas, it can cause the particles that make it up to group together to form several solid crystals, without having to go through a liquid state previously.
  • Boiling, vaporization or evaporation . It is the process by which, when heat is applied to a liquid, it will turn into a gas, by separating its atoms.
  • Condensation and liquefaction . It is the reverse process of evaporation, in which when cold is applied to a gas, its particles will slow down and get closer to each other until they form a liquid again.

What are the properties of matter

The properties of matter are diverse , since there are a large number of components in them, but they will present physical, chemical, physicochemical, general and specific properties. Not all types will show all these properties, since, for example, some apply to some type of substance, object or mass, especially depending on their state of aggregation.

Among the main general properties of matter, we have:

Size or extension

This is part of its physical properties, since it refers to the extension and quantity of it that it occupies in space. It means that they are extensive properties: volume, length, kinetic energies (it depends on its mass and is given by its displacement) and potential (given by its position in space), among others.


It refers to the amount of matter that an object or body has , not contingent on its extension or position; that is, the amount of mass present in it is not related to how much volume it occupies in space, so an object whose extension is small can have a huge amount of mass and vice versa.

The perfect example is black holes , which have an unquantifiable amount of mass relative to their extent in space.


In the concept of matter, this is the property that objects have of maintaining their state of rest, or continuing their movement, except if a force outside it modifies their position in space.


Between the atoms that make up the definition of matter in a body , there are empty spaces, which, depending on one or another material, these spaces will be larger or smaller. This is called porosity, which means that it is the opposite of compaction.


It is the ability of bodies to fragment into smaller pieces, even at molecular and atomic sizes, to the point of disintegration. This division can be the product of mechanical and physical transformations, but it will not transform its chemical composition, and it will not change the essence of what matter is.


This refers to one of its main properties , and in this case it is the ability of the object to return to its original volume after it has been subjected to a compression force that deforms it. However, there is a limit to this property and there are materials more prone to elasticity than others.

In addition to those mentioned above, it is important to highlight the other physical and chemical properties of matter that exist and are numerous. Between them:

1. Physical properties:


a) a) Intensive or intrinsic (specific properties)

  • Appearance : primarily in what state the body is and what it looks like.
  • Color : it also has to do with physical appearance , but there are substances that have different colors.
  • Smell : it depends on its composition, and is perceived by smell.
  • Taste : How the substance is perceived to taste .
  • Melting, boiling, freezing and sublimation point: the point at which a matter goes from being a solid to a liquid; liquid to fizzy; liquid to solid; and solid to gaseous; respectively.
  • Solubility : they dissolve when mixed with a liquid or solvent.
  • Hardness : scale in which a material will allow to be scratched, cut and crossed by another.
  • Viscosity : resistance of a liquid to flow.
  • Surface tension : it is the ability of a fluid to resist the increase in its surface.
  • Electrical and thermal conductivity : ability of a material to conduct electricity and heat.
  • Malleability : property that allows them to deform without breaking.
  • Ductility : ability to deform and form threads of the material.
  • Thermal decomposition : when heat is applied, the substance is chemically transformed.

b) Extensive or extrinsic (general properties)

  • Mass : amount of matter in the body.
  • Volume : the space that the body occupies.
  • Weight : the pushing force that gravity has on the object.
  • Pressure : the ability to push “out” of what is around them.
  • Inertia : the ability to remain immobile unless an external force moves it.
  • Dimension : the extent of a single-dimensional object in space.
  • Kinetic and potential energy : due to its movement and position in space.

2. Chemical Properties:

  • PH : acidity or alkalinity level of substances.
  • Combustion : the ability to burn with oxygen, in which it releases heat and carbon dioxide.
  • Ionization energy: energy you receive for an electron to escape from its atoms.
  • Oxidation : ability to form complex elements through the loss or gain of electrons.
  • Corrosion : is the ability of a substance to damage or corrupt the structure of a material.
  • Toxicity : the extent to which a substance can harm a living organism.
  • Reactivity : propensity to combine with other substances.
  • Flammability : ability to generate a heat detonation caused by high external temperatures.
  • Chemical stability : the ability of a substance to react to oxygen or water.

The states of aggregation of matter

This can appear in different physical states. This means that its consistency , among other characteristics, will be different according to the structure of its atoms and molecules, which is why it speaks of the specific properties of matter. Among the main states that can be achieved are the following:


Solid bodies have the particularity of having their atoms very close to each other, which gives them hardness and they resist being crossed or cut by another solid. In addition, they have malleability , which allows them to deform under pressure without necessarily having to fragment.

Their composition also allows them to have ductility , which is the possibility of forming threads of the same material when contrary forces come towards the object, allowing it to stretch; and melting point, so that, at a certain temperature, it can transform its state from solid to liquid.


The atoms that make up liquids are united but with less force than solids; They are also vibrating rapidly, which allows them to flow and their viscosity or resistance to movement will depend on what type of liquid it is (the more viscous, the less fluid). Its shape will be determined by the container that contains it.

Like solids, they have a boiling point, at which they will cease to be liquid to become gaseous; and they also have a freezing point, at which they will cease to be liquid to become solid.


The atoms present in gases are volatile , scattered and the force of gravity affects them to a lesser extent than the previous states. Like the liquid, it has no shape, it will take that of the container or environment where it is.

This state, like liquids, has compressibility and to a greater extent; it also has pressure, which gives them the quality of pushing what is around them. It is also capable of transforming itself into a liquid under high pressure (liquefaction) and by eliminating heat energy, it can become a liquid gas.


This state is one of the least common. Their atoms act similar to gaseous elements , with the difference that they are charged with electricity, although without electromagnetism, which makes them good electrical conductors. As it has specific characteristics that are not related to the other three states, it is considered the fourth state of aggregation of matter.

What is the Law of Conservation of Matter?


The Law of Conservation of Matter or Lomonosov-Lavoisier, establishes that no type can be destroyed , but transformed into another with different external characteristics or even at the molecular level, but its mass remains. That is, being subjected to some physical or chemical process, it retains the same mass and weight, as well as in its spatial proportions (the volume it occupies).

This discovery was made by Russian scientists Mikhail Lomonosov (1711-1765) and Antoine Laurent Lavoisier (1743-1794). The first observed it for the first time when lead plates did not lose their weight after being melted in a sealed container; however, this finding was not given due importance at the time.

Years later, Lavoisier experimented with a closed container , where he boiled water for 101 days and whose steam did not escape but returned to it. He compared the weights before and after the experiment and concluded that it is neither created nor destroyed but transformed.

This law has its exception, and it would be in the case of reactions of the nuclear type, since in them mass can be converted into energy and in the opposite direction, so it is possible to say that they can be “destroyed” or “created. ”For a specific purpose, but in reality it is being transformed, even if it is into energy.

Examples of matter

Among the main examples of it, the following can be highlighted by state of aggregation:

  • Solid State : A rock, wood , a plate, a steel bar, a book, a block, a plastic cup, an apple, a bottle, a telephone.
  • Liquid State : Water, oil, lava, oil, blood, sea, rain , sap, gastric juices.
  • The gas or Gaseous State : Oxygen, natural gas, methane, butane, hydrogen, nitrogen, greenhouse gases, smoke , water vapor, carbon monoxide.
  • Plasmatic State: Fire , the northern lights, the Sun and other stars, the solar winds, the ionosphere, the electrical discharges of industrial use or use, the matter between the planets, the stars and galaxies, the electrical storms, the neon in form of plasma from neon lamps, plasma screen monitors from televisions or otherwise.

Other meanings of the term


Raw material

They are all those natural resources that man uses in the elaboration and manufacture of the products that he uses for his daily life, so this constitutes the starting point of the industry. These resources are transformed into various goods through an industrialized process. Thanks to the great diversity of raw materials that nature provides, it is classified into:

  • Organic origin : it can be vegetable, such as wood used to make furniture and other utensils, and linen to make textiles; and animals, from which various foods and skins are obtained from their hides and skins.
  • Inorganic origin : such as metallic minerals, which can be iron , gold, silver, copper; and non-metallic ones, such as salt or marble. These are usually used to make jewelry, utensils, tools, and in the construction area.
  • Fossil origin : like gas, coal and oil.
  • Others : according to its availability it can be renewable or non-renewable.

Dark matter

It is a type of matter that does not emit enough electromagnetic radiation to be detected by the usual means. This is why its existence is in doubt, but it is deduced by its gravitational effects on the visible, such as stars and galaxies. Despite this, it is believed that a quarter of the universe is made up of it.

There is a theory called supersymmetry, which explains the fundamental interactions of particles , which presumably proves the existence of dark matter. However, no study has been conclusive. The existence of this matter was proposed by Fritz Zwicky in 1933, due to the observation of an “invisible mass” influencing the orbital speeds of galaxies in clusters.

Other observations have indicated the presence of this dark mass: the rotation speed of galaxies or the temperature distribution of hot gas in galaxies and clusters.

It should be noted that it also plays an important role in the formation of structures and the evolution of galaxies . It also has measurable effects within the anisotropy of the microwave background radiation. This suggests that galaxies, clusters, and the universe contain much more darkness than visibility.

Academic matter

Also called subjects, academic matters are the teaching units that make up a study program, which must be seen and approved as a requirement to complete the curriculum of a certain academic level. These can be seen in a workshop, a course, a series of lectures, an academic year of primary or secondary school and a university period (quarter, semester or year).

Subjects may be required or optional, and they must be taught by a teacher or instructor who masters or is trained in the subject, which will be responsible for teaching a fixed group of students the content of the program of this.

Several examples of academic matters are mathematics, language arts, world history, fine arts, physics, chemistry, biology, or physical education.

The content of these academic courses is usually evaluated by module or period , where the effectiveness of the teaching method will be determined through an understanding of what has been taught. The duration of a subject will vary according to the academic degree to which it belongs.

It is important to note that, for example, in the case of the higher university level, the approval of one of these will depend on whether another related subject will be seen in the following period (if it has been failed, the next semester will not be able to enroll in the next subject affine), and this is known as priority.

Frequently Asked Questions about Matter

What is matter made of?

This is composed of atoms, which in turn are the minimum unit in which it can be measured, and to date 118 types have been discovered, which combined can lead to other substances.

What is called raw matter?

They are the resources with natural origin that are used through an industrial process for the manufacture of multiple products.

How is matter classified?

This is classified into pure substances, which are made up of the same type of atom; and composite, whose structure is made up of two or more types of atoms (molecules).

How can matter be identified?

According to the observation of their characteristics and physical properties of these, it can be identified and determined what type of matter makes up a body.

How is matter produced?

It is thought that it originated from the great explosion (Big bang) of a concentrated particle that gave rise to the rest of it. Recent research has concluded that it results from friction from the collision between elementary particles.