Matter

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In chemistry and physics, matter is commonly defined as the substance of which physical objects are composed, not counting the contribution of various energy or force-fields, which are not usually considered to be matter per se (though they may contribute to the mass of objects). Matter constitutes much of the observable universe, although again, light is not ordinarily considered matter. Unfortunately, for scientific purposes, "matter" is somewhat loosely defined.

Definition

Matter is the stuff which things are made of and consists of chemical substances. These are made of atoms, which are made of protons, neutrons and electrons. In this way, matter is contrasted with 'energy' inversely 'energy' is an expression of matter.

In physics, there is no broad consensus as to an exact definition of matter. Physicists generally do not use the word when precision is needed, preferring instead to speak of the more clearly defined concepts of mass, energy and particles.

A possible definition of matter which at least some physicists use [1] is that it is everything that is constituted of elementary fermions. These are the leptons, including the electron, and the quarks, including the up and down quarks of which protons and neutrons are made. Since protons, neutrons and electrons combine to form atoms, atoms, molecules and the bulk substances which they make up are all matter. Matter also includes the various baryons and mesons. Things which are not matter include light (photons) and the other gauge bosons.

However, this definition is not always satisfying when examined closely. In particular, under this definition things may have mass without being matter:

  • W and Z bosons have mass, but are not elementary fermions.
  • Any two photons which are not moving parallel to each other, taken as a system, have an invariant mass.
  • Glueballs have mass due to their binding energy, but contain no particle with mass, nor any elementary fermions.

And they may be matter without having mass:

  • Most of the mass of protons and neutrons comes from the binding energy between the quarks, not the masses of the quarks themselves.
  • One of the three types of neutrinos may be massless.
  • The up quark may be massless.[2]

Usage note regarding matter and anti-matter

There is a semantic difficulty with the word "matter", since it has two meanings, one of which includes the other. "Matter" may mean either:

  1. The opposite of anti-matter (e.g. electrons, but not positrons)
  2. Both matter as defined in the previous line and anti-matter (e.g. both electrons and positrons)

The same difficulty occurs with the word particle.

Properties of matter

As individual particles

Quarks combine to form hadrons. Because of the principle of color confinement which occurs in the strong interaction, quarks never exist unbound from other quarks. Among the hadrons are the proton and the neutron. Usually these nuclei are surrounded by a cloud of electrons. A nucleus with as many electrons as protons is thus electrically neutral and is called an atom, otherwise it is an ion.

Leptons do not feel the strong force and so can exist unbound from other particles. On Earth, electrons are generally bound in atoms, but it is easy to free them, a fact which is exploited in the cathode ray tube. Muons may briefly form bound states known as muonic atoms. Neutrinos feel neither the strong nor the electromagnetic interactions. They are never bound to other particles.[1]

As bulk matter

Homogeneous matter has a definite composition and properties and any amount of it has the same composition and properties. It may be a mixture, such as brass, or elemental, like pure iron. Heterogeneous matter, such as granite, does not have a definite composition.

Phases

In bulk, matter can exist in several different phases, according to pressure and temperature. A phase is a state of a macroscopic physical system that has relatively uniform chemical composition and physical properties (i.e. density, crystal structure, index of refraction, and so forth). These phases include the three familiar ones — solids, liquids, and gases — as well as plasmas, superfluids, supersolids, Bose-Einstein condensates, fermionic condensates, liquid crystals, strange matter and quark-gluon plasmas. There are also the paramagnetic and ferromagnetic phases of magnetic materials. As conditions change, matter may change from one phase into another. These phenomena are called phase transitions, and their energetics are studied in the field of thermodynamics.

In small quantities, matter can exhibit properties that are entirely different from those of bulk material and may not be well described by any phase.

Phases are sometimes called states of matter, but this term can lead to confusion with thermodynamic states. For example, two gases maintained at different pressures are in different thermodynamic states, but the same "state of matter".

Antimatter

In particle physics and quantum chemistry, antimatter is matter that is composed of the antiparticles of those that constitute normal matter. If a particle and its antiparticle come into contact with each other, the two annihilate; that is, they may both be converted into other particles with equal energy in accordance with Einstein's equation E = mc2. These new particles may be high-energy photons (gamma rays) or other particle–antiparticle pairs. The resulting particles are endowed with an amount of kinetic energy equal to the difference between the rest mass of the products of the annihilation and the rest mass of the original particle-antiparticle pair, which is often quite large.

Antimatter is not found naturally on Earth, except very briefly and in vanishingly small quantities (as the result of radioactive decay or cosmic rays). This is because antimatter which came to exist on Earth outside the confines of a suitable physics laboratory would almost instantly meet the ordinary matter that Earth is made of, and be annihilated. Antiparticles and some stable antimatter (such as antihydrogen) can be made in tiny amounts, but not in enough quantity to do more than test a few of its theoretical properties.

There is considerable speculation both in science and science fiction as to why the observable universe is apparently almost entirely matter, whether other places are almost entirely antimatter instead, and what might be possible if antimatter could be harnessed, but at this time the apparent asymmetry of matter and antimatter in the visible universe is one of the great unsolved problems in physics. Possible processes by which it came about are explored in more detail under baryogenesis.

Dark matter

In cosmology, most models of the early universe and big bang require the existence of so called dark matter. This matter would have energy and mass, but would NOT be composed of either elementary fermions (as above) OR gauge bosons. As such, it would be composed of particles unknown to present science. Its existence is inferential at this point.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Povh, Rith, Scholz, Zetche, Particles and Nuclei, 1999, ISBN 3540438238
  2. Particle Data Group's Review of Particle Physics 2006

See also

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