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Molecular Dynamics



Physicists study matter and motion, or matter in motion. These forms of matter may be large, or they may be far too small to be seen by the most high-powered microscopes available. Such is the realm of molecular dynamics, the study and simulation of molecular motion. As its name suggests, molecular dynamics brings in aspects of dynamics, the study of why objects move as they do, as well as thermodynamics, the study of the relationships between heat, work, and energy. Existing at the borders between physics and chemistry, molecular dynamics provides understanding regarding the properties of matterincluding phenomena such as the liquefaction of gases, in which one phase of matter is transformed into another.



The physical world is made up of matter, physical substance that has mass; occupies space; is composed of atoms; and is, ultimately, convertible to energy. On Earth, three principal phases of matter exist, namely solid, liquid, and gas. The differences between these three are, on the surface at least, easily perceivable. Clearly, water is a liquid, just as ice is a solid and steam a gas. Yet, the ways in which various substances convert between phases are often complex, as are the interrelations between these phases. Ultimately, understanding of the phases depends on an awareness of what takes place at the molecular level.

An atom is the smallest particle of a chemical element. It is not, however, the smallest thing in the universe; atoms are composed of subatomic particles, including protons, neutrons, and electrons. These subatomic particles are discussed in the context of the structure of matter elsewhere in this volume, where they are examined largely with regard to their electromagnetic properties. In the present context, the concern is primarily with the properties of atomic and molecular particles, in terms of mechanics, the study of bodies in motion, and thermodynamics.

An atom must, by definition, represent one and only one chemical element, of which 109 have been identified and named. It should be noted that the number of elements changes with continuing research, and that many of the elements, particularly those discovered relatively recentlyas, for instance, meitnerium (No. 109), isolated in the 1990sare hardly part of everyday experience. So, perhaps 100 would be a better approximation; in any case, consider the multitude of possible ways in which the elements can be combined.

Musicians have only seven tones at their disposal, and artists only seven colorsyet they manage to create a seemingly infinite variety of mutations in sound and sight, respectively. There are only 10 digits in the numerical system that has prevailed throughout the West since the late Middle Ages, yet it is possible to use that system to create such a range of numbers that all the books in all the libraries in the world could not contain them. This gives some idea of the range of combinations available using the hundred-odd chemical elements nature has providedin other words, the number of possible molecular combinations that exist in the universe.


A molecule is a group of atoms joined in a single structure. Often, these atoms come from different elements, in which case the molecule represents a particular chemical compound, such as water, carbon dioxide, sodium chloride (salt), and so on. On the other hand, a molecule may consist only of one type of atom: oxygen molecules, for instance, are formed by the joining of two oxygen atoms.

As much as scientists understand about molecules and their structure, there is much that they do not know. Molecules of water are fairly easy to understand, because they have a simple, regular structure that does not change. A water molecule is composed of one oxygen atom joined by two hydrogen atoms, and since the oxygen atom is much larger than the two hydrogens, its shape can be compared to a basketball with two softballs attached. The scale of the molecule, of course, is so small as to boggle the mind: to borrow an illustration from American physicist Richard Feynman (1918-1988), if a basketball were blown up to the size of Earth, the molecules inside of it would not even be as large as an ordinary-sized basketball.

As for the water molecule, scientists know a number of things about it: the distance between the two hydrogen atoms (measured in units called an angstrom), and even the angle at which they join the oxygen atom. In the case of salt, however, the molecular structure is not nearly as uniform as that of water: atoms join together, but not always in regular ways. And then there are compounds far more complex than water or salt, involving numerous elements that fit together in precise and complicated ways. But, once that discussion is opened, one has stepped from the realm of physics into that of chemistry, and that is not the intention here. Rather, the purpose of the foregoing and very cursory discussion of molecular structure is to point out that molecules are at the heart of all physical existenceand that the things we cannot see are every bit as complicated as those we can.


Given the tinyto use an understatementsize of molecules, how do scientists analyze their behavior? Today, physicists have at their disposal electron microscopes and other advanced forms of equipment that make it possible to observe activity at the atomic and molecular levels. The technology that makes this possible is beyond the scope of the present discussion. On the other hand, consider a much simpler question: how do physicists weigh molecules?

Obviously "a bunch" of iron (an element known by the chemical symbol Fe) weighs more than "a bunch" of oxygen, but what exactly is "a bunch"? Italian physicist Amedeo Avogadro (1776-1856), the first scientist to clarify the distinction between atoms and molecules, created a unit that made it possible to compare the masses of various molecules. This is the mole, also known as "Avogadro's number," a unit equal to 6.022137 × 1023 (more than 600 billion trillion) molecules.

The term "mole" can be used in the same way that the word "dozen" is used. Just as "a dozen" can refer to twelve cakes or twelve chickens, so "mole" always describes the same number of molecules. A mole of any given substance has its own particular mass, expressed in grams. The mass of one mole of iron, for instance, will always be greater than that of one mole of oxygen. The ratio between them is exactly the same as the ratio of the mass of one iron atom to one oxygen atom. Thus, the mole makes it possible to compare the mass of one element or compound to that of another.

Molecular Attraction and Motion

Molecular dynamics can be understood primarily in terms of the principles of motion, identified by Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), principles that receive detailed discussion at several places in this volume. However, the attraction between particles at the atomic and molecular level cannot be explained by reference to gravitational force, also identified by Newton. For more than a century, gravity was the only type of force known to physicists, yet the pull of gravitation alone was too weak to account for the strong pull between atoms and molecules.

During the eighteenth century and early nineteenth centuries, however, physicists and other scientists became increasingly aware of another form of interaction at work in the worldone that could not be explained in gravitational terms. This was the force of electricity and magnetism, which Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) suggested were different manifestations of a "new" kind of force, electromagnetism. All subatomic particles possess either a positive, negative, or neutral electrical charge. An atom usually has a neutral charge, meaning that it is composed of an equal number of protons (positive) and electrons (negative). In certain situations, however, it may lose one or more electrons and, thus, acquire a net charge, making it an ion.

Positive and negative charges attract one another, much as the north and south poles of two different magnets attract. (In fact, magnetism is simply an aspect of electromagnetic force.) Not only do the positive and negative elements of an atom attract one another, but positive elements in atoms attract negative elements in other atoms, and vice versa. These interactions are much more complex than the preceding discussion suggests, of course; the important point is that a force other than gravitation draws matter together at the atomic and molecular levels. On the other hand, the interactions that are critical to the study of molecular dynamics are primarily mechanical, comprehensible from the standpoint of Newtonian dynamics.


All molecules are in motion, and the rate of that motion is affected by the attraction between them. This attraction or repulsion can be though of like a spring connecting two molecules, an analogy that works best for solids, but in a limited way for liquids. Most molecular motion in liquids and gases is caused by collisions with other molecules; even in solids, momentum is transferred from one molecule to the next along the "springs," but ultimately the motion is caused by collisions. Hence molecular collisions provide the mechanism by which heat is transferred between two bodies in contact.

The rate at which molecules move in relation to one another determines phase of matterthat is, whether a particular item can be described as solid, liquid, or gas. The movement of molecules means that they possess kinetic energy, or the energy of movement, which is manifested as thermal energy and measured by temperature. Temperature is really nothing more than molecules in motion, relative to one another: the faster they move, the greater the kinetic energy, and the greater the temperature.

When the molecules in a material move slowly in relation to one another, they tend to be close in proximity, and hence the force of attraction between them is strong. Such a material is called a solid. In molecules of liquid, by contrast, the rate of relative motion is higher, so the molecules tend to be a little more spread out, and therefore the force between them is weaker. A material substance whose molecules move at high speeds, and therefore exert little attraction toward one another, is known as a gas. All forms of matter possess a certain (very large) amount of energy due to their mass; thermal energy, however, islike phase of mattera function of the attractions between particles. Hence, solids generally have less energy than liquids, and liquids less energy than gases.


Kinetic Theories of Matter

English chemist John Dalton (1766-1844) was the first to recognize that nature is composed of tiny particles. In putting forward his idea, Dalton adopted a concept from the Greek philosopher Democritus (c. 470-380 b.c.), who proposed that matter is made up of tiny units he called atomos, or "indivisible."

Dalton recognized that the structure of atoms in a particular element or compound is uniform, and maintained that compounds are made up of compound atoms: in other words, that water, for instance, is composed of "water atoms." Soon after Dalton, however, Avogadro clarified the distinction between atoms and molecules. Neither Dalton nor Avogadro offered much in the way of a theory regarding atomic or molecular behavior; but another scientist had already introduced the idea that matter at the smallest levels is in a constant state of motion.

This was Daniel Bernoulli (1700-1782), a Swiss mathematician and physicist whose studies of fluidsa term which encompasses both gases and liquidsprovided a foundation for the field of fluid mechanics. (Today, Bernoulli's principle, which relates the velocity and pressure of fluids, is applied in the field of aerodynamics, and explains what keeps an airplane aloft.) Bernoulli published his fluid mechanics studies in Hydrodynamica (1700-1782), a work in which he provided the basis for what came to be known as the kinetic theory of gases.


Because he came before Dalton and Avogadro, and, thus, did not have the benefit of their atomic and molecular theories, Bernoulli was not able to develop his kinetic theory beyond the seeds of an idea. The subsequent elaboration of kinetic theory, which is applied not only to gases but (with somewhat less effectiveness) to liquids and solids, in fact, resulted from an accidental discovery.

In 1827, Scottish botanist Robert Brown (1773-1858) was studying pollen grains under a microscope, when he noticed that the grains underwent a curious zigzagging motion in the water. The pollen assumed the shape of a colloid, a pattern that occurs when particles of one substance are dispersedbut not dissolvedin another substance. Another example of a colloidal pattern is a puff of smoke.

At first, Brown assumed that the motion had a biological explanationthat is, that it resulted from life processes within the pollenbut later, he discovered that even pollen from long-dead plants behaved in the same way. He never understood what he was witnessing. Nor did a number of other scientists, who began noticing other examples of what came to be known as Brownian motion: the constant but irregular zigzagging of colloidal particles, which can be seen clearly through a microscope.


A generation after Brown's time, kinetic theory came to maturity through the work of Maxwell and Austrian physicist Ludwig E. Boltzmann (1844-1906). Working independently, the two men developed a theory, later dubbed the Maxwell-Boltzmann theory of gases, which described the distribution of molecules in a gas. In 1859, Maxwell described the distribution of molecular velocities, work that became the foundation of statistical mechanicsthe study of large systemsby examining the behavior of their smallest parts.

A year later, in 1860, Maxwell published a paper in which he presented the kinetic theory of gases: the idea that a gas consists of numerous molecules, relatively far apart in space, which interact by colliding. These collisions, he proposed, are responsible for the production of thermal energy, because when the velocity of the molecules increasesas it does after collisionthe temperature increases as well. Eight years later, in 1868, Boltzmann independently applied statistics to the kinetic theory, explaining the behavior of gas molecules by means of what would come to be known as statistical mechanics.

Kinetic theory offered a convincing explanation of the processes involved in Brownian motion. According to the kinetic view, what Brown observed had nothing to do with the pollen particles; rather, the movement of those particles was simply the result of activity on the part of the water molecules. Pollen grains are many thousands of times larger than water molecules, but since there are so many molecules in even one drop of water, and their motion is so constant but apparently random, the water molecules are bound to move a pollen grain once every few thousand collisions.

In 1905, Albert Einstein (1879-1955) analyzed the behavior of particles subjected to Brownian motion. His work, and the confirmation of his results by French physicist Jean Baptiste Perrin (1870-1942), finally put an end to any remaining doubts concerning the molecular structure of matter. The kinetic explanation of molecular behavior, however, remains a theory.

Kinetic Theory and Gases

Maxwell's and Boltzmann's work helped explain characteristics of matter at the molecular level, but did so most successfully with regard to gases. Kinetic theory fits with a number of behaviors exhibited by gases: their tendency to fill any container by expanding to fit its interior, for instance, and their ability to be easily compressed.

This, in turn, concurs with the gas laws (discussed in a separate essay titled "Gas Laws")for instance, Boyle's law, which maintains that pressure decreases as volume increases, and vice versa. Indeed, the ideal gas law, which shows an inverse relationship between pressure and volume, and a proportional relationship between temperature and the product of pressure and volume, is an expression of kinetic theory.


The operations of the gas laws are easy to visualize by means of kinetic theory, which portrays gas molecules as though they were millions upon billions of tiny balls colliding at random. Inside a cube-shaped container of gas, molecules are colliding with every possible surface, but the net effect of these collisions is the same as though the molecules were divided into thirds, each third colliding with opposite walls inside the cube.

If the cube were doubled in size, the molecules bouncing back and forth between two sets of walls would have twice as far to travel between each collision. Their speed would not change, but the time between collisions would double, thus, cutting in half the amount of pressure they would exert on the walls. This is an illustration of Boyle's law: increasing the volume by a factor of two leads to a decrease in pressure to half of its original value.

On the other hand, if the size of the container were decreased, the molecules would have less distance to travel from collision to collision. This means they would be colliding with the walls more often, and, thus, would have a higher degree of energyand, hence, a higher temperature. This illustrates another gas law, Charles's law, which relates volume to temperature: as one of the two increases or decreases, so does the other. Thus, it can be said, in light of kinetic theory, that the average kinetic energy produced by the motions of all the molecules in a gas is proportional to the absolute temperature of the gas.


The term "absolute temperature" refers to the Kelvin scale, established by William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907). Drawing on Charles's discovery that gas at 0°C (32°F) regularly contracts by about 1/273 of its volume for every Celsius degree drop in temperature, Thomson derived the value of absolute zero (273.15°C or 459.67°F). The Kelvin and Celsius scales are directly related; hence, Celsius temperatures can be converted to Kelvins by adding 273.15.

The Kelvin scale measures temperature in relation to absolute zero, or 0K. (Units in the Kelvin system, known as Kelvins, do not include the word or symbol for degree.) But what is absolute zero, other than a very cold temperature? Kinetic theory provides a useful definition: the temperature at which all molecular movement in a gas ceases. But this definition requires some qualification.

First of all, the laws of thermodynamics show the impossibility of actually reaching absolute zero. Second, the vibration of atoms never completely ceases: rather, the vibration of the average atom is zero. Finally, one elementheliumdoes not freeze, even at temperatures near absolute zero. Only the application of pressure will push helium past the freezing point.

Changes of Phase

Kinetic theory is more successful when applied to gases than to liquids and solids, because liquid and solid molecules do not interact nearly as frequently as gas particles do. Nonetheless, the proposition that the internal energy of any substancegas, liquid, or solidis at least partly related to the kinetic energies of its molecules helps explain much about the behavior of matter.

The thermal expansion of a solid, for instance, can be clearly explained in terms of kinetic theory. As discussed in the essay on elasticity, many solids are composed of crystals, regular shapes composed of molecules joined to one another, as though on springs. A spring that is pulled back, just before it is released, is an example of potential energy: the energy that an object possesses by virtue of its position. For a crystalline solid at room temperature, potential energy and spacing between molecules are relatively low. But as temperature increases and the solid expands, the space between molecules increasesas does the potential energy in the solid.

An example of a liquid displaying kinetic behavior is water in the process of vaporization. The vaporization of water, of course, occurs in boiling, but water need not be anywhere near the boiling point to evaporate. In either case, the process is the same. Speeds of molecules in any substance are distributed along a curve, meaning that a certain number of molecules have speeds well below, or well above, the average. Those whose speeds are well above the average have enough energy to escape the surface, and once they depart, the average energy of the remaining liquid is less than before. As a result, evaporation leads to cooling. (In boiling, of course, the continued application of thermal energy to the entire water sample will cause more molecules to achieve greater energy, even as highly energized molecules leave the surface of the boiling water as steam.)

The Phase Diagram

The vaporization of water is an example of a change of phasethe transition from one phase of matter to another. The properties of any substance, and the points at which it changes phase, are plotted on what is known as a phase diagram. The latter typically shows temperature along the x-axis, and pressure along the y-axis. It is also possible to construct a phase diagram that plots volume against temperature, or volume against pressure, and there are even three-dimensional phase diagrams that measure the relationship between all threevolume, pressure, and temperature. Here we will consider the simpler two-dimensional diagram we have described.

For simple substances such as water and carbon dioxide, the solid form of the substance appears at a relatively low temperature, and at pressures anywhere from zero upward. The line between solids and liquids, indicating the temperature at which a solid becomes a liquid at any pressure above a certain level, is called the fusion curve. Though it appears to be a line, it is indeed curved, reflecting the fact that at high pressures, a solid well below the normal freezing point for that substance may be melted to create a liquid.

Liquids occupy the area of the phase diagram corresponding to relatively high temperatures and high pressures. Gases or vapors, on the other hand, can exist at very low temperatures, but only if the pressure is also low. Above the melting point for the substance, gases exist at higher pressures and higher temperatures. Thus, the line between liquids and gases often looks almost like a 45° angle. But it is not a straight line, as its name, the vaporization curve, indicates. The curve of vaporization reflects the fact that at relatively high temperatures and high pressures, a substance is more likely to be a gas than a liquid.


There are several other interesting phenomena mapped on a phase diagram. One is the critical point, which can be found at a place of very high temperature and pressure along the vaporization curve. At the critical point, high temperatures prevent a liquid from remaining a liquid, no matter how high the pressure. At the same time, the pressure causes gas beyond that point to become more and more dense, but due to the high temperatures, it does not condense into a liquid. Beyond the critical point, the substance cannot exist in anything other than the gaseous state. The temperature component of the critical point for water is 705.2°F (374°C)at 218 atm, or 218 times ordinary atmospheric pressure. For helium, however, critical temperature is just a few degrees above absolute zero. This is why helium is rarely seen in forms other than a gas.

There is also a certain temperature and pressure, called the triple point, at which some substanceswater and carbon dioxide are exampleswill be a liquid, solid, and gas all at once. Another interesting phenomenon is the sublimation curve, or the line between solid and gas. At certain very low temperatures and pressures, a substance may experience sublimation, meaning that a gas turns into a solid, or a solid into a gas, without passing through a liquid stage. A well-known example of sublimation occurs when "dry ice," which is made of carbon dioxide, vaporizes at temperatures above (109.3°F [78.5°C]). Carbon dioxide is exceptional, however, in that it experiences sublimation at relatively high pressures, such as those experienced in everyday life: for most substances, the sublimation point occurs at such a low pressure point that it is seldom witnessed outside of a laboratory.

Liquefaction of Gases

One interesting and useful application of phase change is the liquefaction of gases, or the change of gas into liquid by the reduction in its molecular energy levels. There are two important properties at work in liquefaction: critical temperature and critical pressure. Critical temperature is that temperature above which no amount of pressure will cause a gas to liquefy. Critical pressure is the amount of pressure required to liquefy the gas at critical temperature.

Gases are liquefied by one of three methods: (1) application of pressure at temperatures below critical; (2) causing the gas to do work against external force, thus, removing its energy and changing it to the liquid state; or (3) causing the gas to do work against some internal force. The second option can be explained in terms of the operation of a heat engine, as explored in the Thermodynamics essay.

In a steam engine, an example of a heat engine, water is boiled, producing energy in the form of steam. The steam is introduced to a cylinder, in which it pushes on a piston to drive some type of machinery. In pushing against the piston, the steam loses energy, and as a result, changes from a gas back to a liquid.

As for the use of internal forces to cool a gas, this can be done by forcing the vapor through a small nozzle or porous plug. Depending on the temperature and properties of the gas, such an operation may be enough to remove energy sufficient for liquefaction to take place. Sometimes, the process must be repeated before the gas fully condenses into a liquid.


Like the steam engine itself, the idea of gas lique-faction is a product of the early Industrial Age. One of the pioneering figures in the field was the brilliant English physicist Michael Faraday (1791-1867), who liquefied a number of high-critical temperature gases, such as carbon dioxide.

Half a century after Faraday, French physicist Louis Paul Cailletet (1832-1913) and Swiss chemist Raoul Pierre Pictet (1846-1929) developed the nozzle and porous-plug methods of liquefaction. This, in turn, made it possible to liquefy gases with much lower critical temperatures, among them oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon monoxide.

By the end of the nineteenth century, physicists were able to liquefy the gases with the lowest critical temperatures. James Dewar of Scotland (1842-1923) liquefied hydrogen, whose critical temperature is 399.5°F (239.7°C). Some time later, Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (1853-1926) successfully liquefied the gas with the lowest critical temperature of them all: helium, which, as mentioned earlier, becomes a gas at almost unbelievably low temperatures. Its critical temperature is 449.9°F (267.7°C), or just 5.3K.


Liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), the latter a mixture of by-products obtained from petroleum and natural gas, are among the examples of liquefied gas in daily use. In both cases, the volume of the liquefied gas is far less than it would be if the gas were in a vaporized state, thus enabling ease and economy in transport.

Liquefied gases are used as heating fuel for motor homes, boats, and homes or cabins in remote areas. Other applications of liquefied gases include liquefied oxygen and hydrogen in rocket engines, and liquefied oxygen and petroleum used in welding. The properties of liquefied gases also figure heavily in the science of producing and studying low-temperature environments. In addition, liquefied helium is used in studying the behavior of matter at temperatures close to absolute zero.

A "New" Form of Matter?

Physicists at a Colorado laboratory in 1995 revealed a highly interesting aspect of atomic motion at temperatures approaching absolute zero. Some 70 years before, Einstein had predicted that, at extremely low temperatures, atoms would fuse to form one large "superatom." This hypothesized structure was dubbed the Bose-Einstein Condensate after Einstein and Satyendranath Bose (1894-1974), an Indian physicist whose statistical methods contributed to the development of quantum theory.

Because of its unique atomic structure, the Bose-Einstein Condensate has been dubbed a "new" form of matter. It represents a quantum mechanical effect, relating to a cutting-edge area of physics devoted to studying the properties of subatomic particles and the interaction of matter with radiation. Thus it is not directly related to molecular dynamics; nonetheless, the Bose-Einstein Condensate is mentioned here as an example of the exciting work being performed at a level beyond that addressed by molecular dynamics. Its existence may lead to a greater understanding of quantum mechanics, and on an everyday level, the "superatom" may aid in the design of smaller, more powerful computer chips.


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The temperature, defined as 0K on the Kelvin scale, at which the motion of molecules in a solid virtually ceases. Absolute zero is equal to 459.67°F (273.15°C).


The smallest particle of a chemical element. An atom can exist either alone or in combination with other atoms in a molecule.


The constant but irregular zigzagging of colloidal particles, which can be seen clearly through amicroscope. The phenomenon is Named after Scottish botanist Robert Brown (1773-1858), who first witnessed it but was not able to explain it. The behavior exhibited in Brownian motion provides evidence for the kinetic theory of matter.


The transition from one phase of matter to another.


A substance made up of atoms of more than one chemical element. These atoms are usually joined in molecules.


A substance made up of only one kind of atom.


A pattern that occurs when particles of one substance are dispersedbut not dissolvedin another substance. A puff of smoke in the air is an example of acolloid, whose behavior is typically characterized by Brownian motion.


A coordinate, plotted on a phase diagram, above which a substance cannot exist in anything other than the gaseous state. Located at a position of very high temperature and pressure, the critical point marks the termination of the vaporization curve.


The study of why objects move as they do. Dynamics is an element of mechanics.


Any substance, whether gas or liquid, which tends to flow, and which conforms to the shape of its container. Unlike solids, fluids are typically uniform in molecular structure: for instance, one molecule of water is the same as another water molecule.


The boundary between solid and liquid for any given substance, as plotted on a phase diagram.


A phase of matter in which molecules exert little or no attraction toward one another, and, therefore, move at high speeds.


Internal thermal energy that flows from one body of matter to another.


Established by William Thomson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), the Kelvin scale measures temperature in relation to absolute zero, or 0K.(Units in the Kelvin system, known as Kelvins, do not include the word or symbol for degree.) The Kelvin and Celsius scales are directly related; hence, Celsius temperatures can be converted to Kelvins by adding 273.15.


The energy that an object possesses by virtue of its motion.


The idea that a gas consists of numerous molecules, relatively far apart in space, which interact by colliding. These collisions are responsible for the production of thermal energy, because when the velocity of the molecules increasesas it does after collisionthe temperature increases as well.


The application of the kinetic theory of gases to all forms of matter. Since particles of liquids and solids move much more slowly than do gas particles, kinetic theory is not as successful in this regard; however, the proposition that the internal energy of any substance is at least partly related to the kinetic energies of its molecules helps explain much about the behavior of matter.


A phase of matter in which molecules exert moderate attractions toward one another, and, therefore, move at moderate speeds.


Physical substance that has mass; occupies space; is composed of atoms; and is ultimately convertible to energy. There are several phases of matter, including solids, liquids, and gases.


The study of bodies in motion.


A unit equal to 6.022137 × 1023 (more than 600 billion trillion) molecules. Since their size makes it impossible to weigh molecules in relatively small quantities; hence, the mole, devised by Italian physicist Amedeo Avogadro (1776-1856), facilitates comparisons of mass betweensubstances.


The study and simulation of molecular motion.


A group of atoms, usually of more than one chemical element, joined in a structure.


A chart, plotted for any particular substance, identifying the particular phase of matter for that substance at a given temperature and pressure level. A phase diagram usually shows temperature along the x-axis, and pressure along the y-axis.


The various forms of material substance (matter), which are defined primarily in terms of the behavior exhibited by their atomic or molecular structures. On Earth, three principal phases of matter exist, namely solid, liquid, and gas.


The energy an object possesses by virtue of its position.


A phase of matter in which molecules exert strong attractions toward one another, and, therefore, move slowly.


A realm of the physical sciences devoted to the study of large systems by examining the behavior of their smallest parts.


The boundary between solid and gas for any given substance, as plotted on a phase diagram.


In physics, the term "system" usually refers to any set of physical interactions isolated from the rest of the universe. Anything outside of the system, including all factors and forces irrelevant to a discussion of that system, is known as the environment.


A measure of the average kinetic energyor molecular translational energy in a system. Differences in temperature determine the direction of internal energy flow between two systems when heat is being transferred.


Heat energy, a form of kinetic energy produced by the movement of atomic or molecular particles. The greater the movement of the separticles, the greater the thermal energy.


The study of the relationships between heat, work, and energy.


The boundary between liquid and gas for any given substance as plotted on a phase diagram.

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