1.3 Properties of Matter


Every substance has a unique set of properties—characteristics that allow us to recognize it and to distinguish it from other substances. For example, the properties listed in Table 1.3 allow us to distinguish hydrogen, oxygen, and water from one another. The properties of matter can be categorized as physical or chemical. Physical properties can be measured without changing the identity and composition of the substance. These properties include color, odor, density, melting point, boiling point, and hardness. Chemical properties describe the way a substance may change or react to form other substances. A common chemical property is flammability, the ability of a substance to burn in the presence of oxygen.

Some properties—such as temperature, melting point, and density—do not depend on the amount of the sample being examined. These properties, called intensive properties, are particularly useful in chemistry because many can be used to identify substances. Extensive properties of substances depend on the quantity of the sample and include measurements of mass and volume. Extensive properties relate to the amount of substance present.

Physical and Chemical Changes

As with the properties of a substance, the changes that substances undergo can be classified as either physical or chemical. During physical changes a substance changes its physical appearance, but not its composition. The evaporation of water is a physical change. When water evaporates, it changes from the liquid state to the gas state, but it is still composed of water molecules, as depicted earlier in Figure 1.4. All changes of state (for example, from liquid to gas or from liquid to solid) are physical changes.

In chemical changes (also called chemical reactions) a substance is transformed into a chemically different substance. When hydrogen burns in air, for example, it undergoes a chemical change because it combines with oxygen to form water. The molecular-level view of this process is depicted in Figure 1.10.


Figure 1.10 In chemical reactions the chemical identities of substances change. Here, a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen undergoes a chemical change to form water.


Chemical changes can be dramatic. In the account that follows, Ira Remsen, author of a popular chemistry text published in 1901, describes his first experiences with chemical reactions. The chemical reaction that he observed is shown in Figure 1.11.


Figure 1.11 The chemical reaction between a copper penny and nitric acid. The dissolved copper produces the blue-green solution; the reddish brown gas produced is nitrogen dioxide.


While reading a textbook of chemistry, I came upon the statement "nitric acid acts upon copper," and I determined to see what this meant. Having located some nitric acid, I had only to learn what the words "act upon" meant. In the interest of knowledge I was even willing to sacrifice one of the few copper cents then in my possession. I put one of them on the table, opened a bottle labeled "nitric acid," poured some of the liquid on the copper, and prepared to make an observation. But what was this wonderful thing which I beheld? The cent was already changed, and it was no small change either. A greenish-blue liquid foamed and fumed over the cent and over the table. The air became colored dark red. How could I stop this? I tried by picking the cent up and throwing it out the window. I learned another fact: nitric acid acts upon fingers. The pain led to another unpremeditated experiment. I drew my fingers across my trousers and discovered nitric acid acts upon trousers. That was the most impressive experiment I have ever performed. I tell of it even now with interest. It was a revelation to me. Plainly the only way to learn about such remarkable kinds of action is to see the results, to experiment, to work in the laboratory.

Separation of Mixtures

Because each component of a mixture retains its own properties, we can separate a mixture into its components by taking advantage of the differences in their properties. For example, a heterogeneous mixture of iron filings and gold filings could be sorted individually by color into iron and gold. A less tedious approach would be to use a magnet to attract the iron filings, leaving the gold ones behind. We can also take advantage of an important chemical difference between these two metals: Many acids dissolve iron, but not gold. Thus, if we put our mixture into an appropriate acid, the iron would dissolve and the gold would be left behind. The two could then be separated by filtration, a procedure illustrated in Figure 1.12. We would have to use other chemical reactions, which we will learn about later, to transform the dissolved iron back into metal.


Figure 1.12 Separation by filtration. A mixture of a solid and a liquid is poured through a porous medium, in this case filter paper. The liquid passes through the paper while the solid remains on the paper.


We can separate homogeneous mixtures into their components in similar ways. For example, water has a much lower boiling point than table salt; it is more volatile. If we boil a solution of salt and water, the more volatile water evaporates and the salt is left behind. The water vapor is converted back to liquid form on the walls of the condenser (Figure 1.13). This process is called distillation.


Figure 1.13 A simple apparatus for the separation of a sodium chloride solution (salt water) into its components. Boiling the solution evaporates the water, which is condensed, then collected in the receiving flask. After all the water has boiled away, pure sodium chloride remains in the boiling flask.


The differing abilities of substances to adhere to the surfaces of various solids such as paper and starch can also be used to separate mixtures. This is the basis of chromatography (literally "the writing of colors"), a technique that can give beautiful and dramatic results. An example of the chromatographic separation of ink is shown in Figure 1.14.


Figure 1.14 Separation of ink into components by paper chromatography. (a) Water begins to move up the paper. (b) Water moves past the ink spot, dissolving different components of the ink at different rates. (c) Water has separated the ink into its several different components.