What Is Matter?

Core Concept

In this tutorial, you will learn about matter, an introduction about its history, and some important concepts.

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Ancient Greek philosophers were the first thinkers to have theories as to what matter was. The philosopher Empedocles stated that everything was constituted by four elements: air, fire, earth, and water. He also started the cosmogonic theory of the four classical elements which is supposed to help to understand the complexity of matter easily. According to Empedocles, there were two forces – love and strife- that made things separate or come together.

Definition of Matter

Matter is everything that is around us and it can be liquid, solid, gas, plasma, or Bose-Einstein Condensates (BEC). More specifically, for something to be considered matter it has to have two properties, called mass and volume.

You probably wonder what the definitions of volume and mass are. Well, volume is a type of scalar quantity that shows the three-dimensional space occupied by an object.

On the other hand, mass is defined as the amount of matter in an object.

Physical Properties of Matter

Physical properties are “observable” and are used to classify things or recognize them.

What Is an Atom?

Matter is made of different types of atoms that cannot be seen without proper equipment. The human eye cannot perceive atoms because of how small they are. Everything is made out of atoms. Atoms are also known as the fundamental building blocks of matter.

Atoms are made of neutrons, protons, and electrons. The nucleus is made of protons and neutrons which are attracted to one another by the nuclear force. Electrons are located outside the nucleus where they move around in concentric orbits.

Relative Mass:

Atom: 1

Neutron: 1

Electron: 1/1836 (the smallest type of atom)


A proton is a subatomic particle that is positively charged +1. The number of protons in a nucleus is called the ” atomic number”.


A neutron is a subatomic particle with a charge of 0. The isotope of an atom is defined by the number of neutrons.


An electron is a subatomic particle that is negatively charged. The charge on an electron is -1. In a neutral atom, the number of electrons of an atom is equal to the number of protons of the atom.

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