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What are the Properties of Matter?

By Greg Caramenico
Updated May 21, 2024
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The properties of matter are characteristics of the elements that make up the universe. They include mass and volume, the most basic measurements of a physical object. Matter is usually divided into physical properties that can be observed without changing an object, and chemical properties that can only be known through chemical reactions. Additionally, the elements form the basic types of matter itemized according to their atomic properties.

Mass is the most basic of the properties of matter because it measures the amount of substance within an object on which physical forces like gravity can act. All matter has mass and therefore occupies volume. Density is a measure of mass defined as a quantity of mass divided by unit volume. The density of matter varies with its temperature and pressure.

Physical properties of matter can be observed without changing whatever object is being analyzed. These vary depending on each element or compound, and include, among other things, boiling, melting and freezing points, and density. Properties of natural objects in everyday life, such as the hardness of diamonds or the fluidity of water, are physical properties. State is an important property of matter: it describes the different configurations that a substance has at different densities, such as water's states as ice, liquid, and vapor.

The chemical properties of matter change after undergoing a chemical reaction and thus cannot be observed without changing the matter itself. Chemical changes mean that the properties of at least one of two or more substances have altered as a result of their reaction. Typically, chemical properties include reactivity, PH, toxicity, and reaction speed. Iron rusting in a damp environment is a chemical property.

Matter consists of atoms and of the molecules made from them. The properties of matter ultimately derive from the charges of protons, neutrons, and electrons, the building blocks of atoms. The periodic table of the elements lists the simplest types of matter in the world. The number and charge of the particles in a given atom determine which element it is and how it will react with others.

Matter generally forms bonds by which single atoms link together into molecules. The bonding properties of matter depend on the number and charge of electrons, and the charge of the nuclei in the center of each atom. Most matter is held together by bonds created through the configuration of electrons in the spaces between the atomic nuclei, so bonding properties determine many traits that substances have. Compounds of matter can be classified according to what kind of bonds hold their atoms together and what kinds of reactions will separate them back into their constituent elements.

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