Changes of state and density

In everyday life, there are three states of matter - solids, liquids and gases. The differences between the three states are due to the arrangement and spacing of the particles and their motion.

Solids, liquids and gasses

The particles in a solid:

  • are in a regular arrangement
  • vibrate about a fixed position
  • sit very closely together
Particles in a solid, tightly packed together in order.

The particles in a liquid:

  • are randomly arranged
  • move around each other
  • sit close together
Particles in a liquid, packed together, very fluid.

The particles in a gas:

  • are randomly arranged
  • move quickly in all directions
  • are far apart
Particles in a gas, random order, not together.Solid cube: side length 1 unit, 64 particles in tightly packed lattice. Liquid cube: 1 unit, contains approx 30 particles. Gas cube: side length 10 units contains 15 scattered particles.Changing the state of a material will change its density

Changing states

When a material is heated or cooled, two changes may happen to the particles within the material:

  • Chemical bonds between the particles may form, break or stretch. There is a change in the chemical potential store of energy in the material.
  • The material will heat up or cool down as the particles within it gain or lose speed. There is a change in the thermal store of energy within the material.

Transferring energy to or from a substance can change its state. Heating a substance in the solid state will cause it to melt, which changes it to the liquid state. Continued heating will cause the substance to evaporate or boil, which changes it to the gas state.

The number of particles does not change during a change of state, only their spacing and arrangement. As a result, the total mass has not changed. It does not matter if a substance melts, freezes, boils, evaporates, condenses or sublimates, the mass does not change.

These changes in state are called physical changes because the process can be reversed. For example, ice is water in the solid state:

  • ice melts to form water in the liquid state when it is heated
  • water in the liquid state becomes ice when it is cooled down

This is different to the changes seen in a chemical reaction, when the changes cannot be reversed so easily.