PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter
How do particles combine to form the variety of matter one observes?
- Introduction to PS1.A
- K-12 Progression and Grade Band End Points for PS1.A
- Performance Expectations Associated with PS1.A
- Additional Resources for PS1.A
While too small to be seen with visible light, atoms have substructures of their own. They have a small central region or nucleus—containing protons and neutrons—surrounded by a larger region containing electrons. The number of protons in the atomic nucleus (atomic number) is the defining characteristic of each element; different isotopes of the same element differ in the number of neutrons only. Despite the immense variation and number of substances, there are only some 100 different stable elements.
Each element has characteristic chemical properties. The periodic table, a systematic representation of known elements, is organized horizontally by increasing atomic number and vertically by families of elements with related chemical properties. The development of the periodic table (which occurred well before atomic substructure was understood) was a major advance, as its patterns suggested and led to the identification of additional elements with particular properties. Moreover, the table’s patterns are now recognized as related to the atom’s outermost electron patterns, which play an important role in explaining chemical reactivity and bond formation, and the periodic table continues to be a useful way to organize this information.
The substructure of atoms determines how they combine and rearrange to form all of the world’s substances. Electrical attractions and repulsions between charged particles (i.e., atomic nuclei and electrons) in matter explain the structure of atoms and the forces between atoms that cause them to form molecules (via chemical bonds), which range in size from two to thousands of atoms (e.g., in biological molecules such as proteins). Atoms also combine due to these forces to form extended structures, such as crystals or metals. The varied properties (e.g., hardness, conductivity) of the materials one encounters, both natural and manufactured, can be understood in terms of the atomic and molecular constituents present and the forces within and between them.
Within matter, atoms and their constituents are constantly in motion. The arrangement and motion of atoms vary in characteristic ways, depending on the substance and its current state (e.g., solid, liquid). Chemical composition, temperature, and pressure affect such arrangements and motions of atoms, as well as the ways in which they interact. Under a given set of conditions, the state and some properties (e.g., density, elasticity, viscosity) are the same for different bulk quantities of a substance, whereas other properties (e.g., volume, mass) provide measures of the size of the sample at hand.
Materials can be characterized by their intensive measurable properties. Different materials with different properties are suited to different uses. The ability to image and manipulate placement of individual atoms in tiny structures allows for the design of new types of materials with particular desired functionality (e.g., plastics, nanoparticles). Moreover, the modern explanation of how particular atoms influence the properties of materials or molecules is critical to understanding the physical and chemical functioning of biological systems.
Grade Band Endpoints for PS1.A
By the end of grade 2. Different kinds of matter exist (e.g., wood, metal, water), and many of them can be either solid or liquid, depending on temperature. Matter can be described and classified by its observable properties (e.g., visual, aural, textural), by its uses, and by whether it occurs naturally or is manufactured. Different properties are suited to different purposes. A great variety of objects can be built up from a small set of pieces (e.g., blocks, construction sets). Objects or samples of a substance can be weighed, and their size can be described and measured. (Boundary: volume is introduced only for liquid measure.)
By the end of grade 5. Matter of any type can be subdivided into particles that are too small to see, but even then the matter still exists and can be detected by other means (e.g., by weighing or by its effects on other objects). For example, a model showing that gases are made from matter particles that are too small to see and are moving freely around in space can explain many observations, including the inflation and shape of a balloon; the effects of air on larger particles or objects (e.g., leaves in wind, dust suspended in air); and the appearance of visible scale water droplets in condensation, fog, and, by extension, also in clouds or the contrails of a jet. The amount (weight) of matter is conserved when it changes form, even in transitions in which it seems to vanish (e.g., sugar in solution, evaporation in a closed container). Measurements of a variety of properties (e.g., hardness, reflectivity) can be used to identify particular materials. (Boundary: At this grade level, mass and weight are not distinguished, and no attempt is made to define the unseen particles or explain the atomic-scale mechanism of evaporation and condensation.)
By the end of grade 8. All substances are made from some 100 different types of atoms, which combine with one another in various ways. Atoms form molecules that range in size from two to thousands of atoms. Pure substances are made from a single type of atom or molecule; each pure substance has characteristic physical and chemical properties (for any bulk quantity under given conditions) that can be used to identify it.
Gases and liquids are made of molecules or inert atoms that are moving about relative to each other. In a liquid, the molecules are constantly in contact with each other; in a gas, they are widely spaced except when they happen to collide. In a solid, atoms are closely spaced and vibrate in position but do not change relative locations. Solids may be formed from molecules, or they may be extended structures with repeating subunits (e.g., crystals). The changes of state that occur with variations in temperature or pressure can be described and predicted using these models of matter. (Boundary: Predictions here are qualitative, not quantitative.)
By the end of grade 12. Each atom has a charged substructure consisting of a nucleus, which is made of protons and neutrons, surrounded by electrons. The periodic table orders elements horizontally by the number of protons in the atom’s nucleus and places those with similar chemical properties in columns. The repeating patterns of this table reflect patterns of outer electron states. The structure and interactions of matter at the bulk scale are determined by electrical forces within and between atoms. Stable forms of matter are those in which the electric and magnetic field energy is minimized. A stable molecule has less energy, by an amount known as the binding energy, than the same set of atoms separated; one must provide at least this energy in order to take the molecule apart.