Encyclopedia of Earth and Physical Sciences - Vol. 7

By Joyce Tavolacci | Go to book overview

MATTER
Matter is all the physical material
making up the universe

Matter makes up everything
in the universe. Scientists
have estimated that over 90
percent of the matter in the
universe does not radiate
light. This material is
known as dark matter.

CONNECTIONS
Early Greek
philosophers believed
that matter consisted of
four ELEMENTS:
EARTH, AIR,
WATER,
and fire.

Everything on Earth and in space is matter, the physical material of the universe. Matter is anything that has mass and takes up space (see MASS).

Matter is complex and has many observable lexels of organization. It can exist as a solid, liquid, or gas, or it can be dissociated as plasma or subatomic particles. Despite the complexity and diversity of matter, all ordinary matter has one thing in common: it consists of atoms. Although atoms are themselves made of smaller particles, they are the building blocks that give matter its properties (see ATOMS).

At present, 112 different types of atoms, the elements, are known (see ELEMENTS). By themselves or in combination, these elements account for all the variety of matter in the universe.


Atomic makeup

At reasonable temperatures, normal matter consists of atoms, but at very high temperatures and pressures or when under bombardment by subatomic particles, atoms dissociate into plasma, which consists of electrons and nuclei (see PLASMA). These components no longer have the chemical and physical properties of the original atoms. Electrons are classified as leptons, particles that live outside the nucleus (see LEPTONS), and nuclei consist of hadrons such as protons and neutrons (see HADRONS).


Historical overview

The Greek philosophers were the first to offer an explanation of the physical world by suggesting that matter is composed of four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. Around 400 B.C.] . two contrasting theories on the fundamental nature of matter emerged. Democritus (c.468–c.370 B.C.E.) and his followers speculated that the four elements of matter were made up of extremely small particles that could not be further divided. They used the Greek word atomos, meaning “indivisible,” to describe these particles and were the first to suggest that the characteristic properties of a material resulted from the unique combination of atoms of which it is composed. Holding a different view, Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) and his followers believed that the four elements of matter are made of a continuous “prime” matter that could be infinitely divided into smaller pieces.

Neither of these early theories of matter was based on experimental evidence but rather on the Greek philosophy of careful reasoning called logic. Although the theory of matter proposed by Democritus more closely resembles the modern-day atomic theory, Aristotle’s continuous nature of matter dominated scientific thought for nearly 2,000 years.

The current concept of atomic theory had its beginnings in the 16th and 17th centuries, when a new way of investigating scientific problems, based on observation and collection of facts resulting from experimentation, was adopted. English scientist and philosopher Robert Boyle (1627–1691) was the first person to perform careful, quantitative experiments. Best known for his work with gases, Boyle also gave the world the modern definition of an element.

In 1738 Daniel Bernoulli (1700–1782), a Swiss mathematician and biologist, opened the door to the modern concept of atomic theory when he proved mathematically that the relationship between the

CORE FACTS
Matter is made of atoms.
Over 99 percent of the matter in the mass of the universe
consists of hydrogen and helium.
Evidence suggests that all the matter found in the
universe had its beginning with the big bang.
The current understanding of matter began with the
early Greek philosophers but evolved rapidly after
the 17th century.

-896-

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