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Basic but important question on mass, matter, and atom

  1. Mar 28, 2014 #1
    Perhaps, this is an easy question, but still induces a lot of confusion to my self. I might not be the only one confused with the meaning of these concepts so it can help a ton to people, like me, confused with their meaning. So here is my confusion, Matter, as I researched it, although instead of relieving me of my distress made it worse, is said to be everything, everything is matter, according to what i read in the websites I browsed, that said, matter is atoms, electrons, neutrons, protons, and etc. Furthermore, I am considered matter as well as every objects and other human beings as well. Although, atoms are said to be the building blocks of matter. What i mean to say is that, according to what i read online, matter is made of building blocks of atoms, to which atoms make up matter, so my confusion is if atoms, electrons, protons are matter, then why are atoms considered matter. :confused: That is one of the points I really need to be cleared so please help me out. One more thing is, Mass is said to be the quantity of matter, according again to what I researched online, but I've read somewhere that electrons, protons has mass, but if electrons and protons are matter, then why does it has mass, which is said to be the quantity of matter. Please create a comprehensive explanation of this concepts, as clear possible.
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2014
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  3. Mar 28, 2014 #2
    In addition to this, I believe that the proper order is as follows, matter-molecules-atoms-electrons,protons,neutrons(energy), since matter is made out of something, then is it safe to say that matter is not atoms nor is it electrons, protons, and neutrons(energy) ? This is really a confusing concept to me
  4. Mar 28, 2014 #3
    Matter is a matter of definition (bad pun). Generally speaking, the word "matter" usually refers to systems composed of stable elementary particles which have mass - electrons, neutrons, protons. These are usually found bound together into systems we refer to as atoms.

    Mass is better thought of in terms of inertia - the more mass something has, the harder you have to push it (e.g. exert a force on it) to make it move. Mass is additive, so that the mass of the atom is the combination of the mass of the electrons, protons and neutrons that compose it. There is also mass associated with energy, which you can read up about by searching special relativity articles.
  5. Mar 28, 2014 #4


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    A brief introduction to Modern Physics and the concepts of Matter, Mass, and Atoms

    At the everyday level of farmers, engineers, and chemists: everything that you can touch is made of "stuff"; this stuff can be broken down by chemical means to obtain a set of molecules, and the molecules can be reduced to atoms - and the different types of atoms make up the periodic table of the elements.

    All of the "things" that we can touch are called "material things"; stuff that we cannot touch (light, shadows, etc) is considered to be immaterial. These are very old ideas which are discussed by the ancient philosophers, and make sense to the ordinary person.

    However, you cannot see an atom - you can only infer its existence. Furthermore, we now know that atoms can be broken down further into particles such as electrons, protons, neutrons, and some can be broken down further into quarks. These particles don't obey our everyday observable laws, so they are not intuitive to us.

    If you take a bunch of material things and put them in a box or bucket a quantity called "mass" can be measured. This "mass of an object" corresponds to a definite "quantity of matter". Mass has definite physical properties independent of how the matter is organized - for example, it has inertia, and obeys Newton's second law of motion: F=ma. Farmers and engineers and pretty much everybody else has an intuitive notion of mass as a "quantity of matter", and understands how it behaves.

    Atoms and their constituent particles also have mass in this sense; and when you add up all of the mass of the individual particles - should you get the total mass of the object in the box? Well, not quite: it takes energy to hold stuff together, and this "binding energy" reduces the mass. This shows up in the nuclei of atoms, but not so much in molecules or larger things. It is this nuclear binding energy which is released as useful power in a nuclear power plant. So your local power plant will be losing mass while creating usable energy at the rate E = mc^2.

    Some of the immaterial things can also be described as particles: light and radio waves can be described in terms of photons. These we can detect - with our eyes or with our radios - but we cannot "touch" them and move them about, except with the aid of special devices such as mirrors. These "immaterial" things are not considered to be matter, nor do they have any mass.

    I hope this helps.
  6. Mar 28, 2014 #5
    So if I can use an analogy and in a more precise meaning, I can say that a society is matter while the individuals in that society are atoms, which in turn is made of energy(protons, neutron, electrons)? And that the mass of an object depends on the quantity of matter, or individuals in a society, which makes up the system of matter? What i mean to say is that, basically quantity of matter is not to be taken literally, quantity of matter is the the amount of the stuff that composed matter which is molecules,atoms, and energy, is that coherent? And that molecules, atoms, energy(protons,neutrons, and electrons) are not matter individually, but together as a system they are matter? I hope I am being logical.
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2014
  7. Mar 28, 2014 #6


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    I don't care for your analogy; things like that break down in strange ways.

    Better to use piles of sand.

    "Quantity of matter" makes sense if you are weighing or otherwise measuring stuff. It is perfectly quantitative. For example, volume x density = quantity of water in a bucket, and would give you the mass.

    Atoms and molecules _are_ matter; they are just the smallest bits. Like you pack together grains of sand to make a sand castle. Even the electrons and protons are matter, but "matter" isn't a term much used in physics.

    Energy is not matter; energy is something else, and is often immaterial. However, every bit of mass has an energy content (if you can get at it) - and this is E=mc^2. Usually of interest only when working with nuclear physics and related fields.
  8. Mar 28, 2014 #7


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    Energy is a property of something: an electron, proton, atom, molecule, brick, or whatever. It is not a "thing in itself" that something can be "made of".
  9. Mar 28, 2014 #8
    Thank you so much guys, I therefore conclude that matter is (everything), molecules, atoms, subatomic particles like electrons, neutron, and proton are matter, and Mass and Energy are properties of something, and the Mass- "quantity of matter" is the measurement of something.
  10. Mar 28, 2014 #9


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    Sorry, but energy can also be measured. So can many immaterial things.

    Please go back and re-read the mini-lecture more carefully.
  11. Mar 28, 2014 #10


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    The statement "Atoms are the building blocks of matter" is wrong, so just ignore it.
    "Mass is the quantity of matter" is wrong also, but only slightly wrong. It's a good definition for an elementary text because a more precise definition is more difficult to understand.

    Not all particles are considered matter. In the Standard Model [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Model] [Broken], the fundamental particles are either classified as either matter or force carriers. Composite objects made of matter particles are also matter. All matter has mass, but force carriers can also have mass.

    In Newtonian physics, mass is a property of an object which tells you how much force it takes to accelerate the object. It is mostly an additive quantity: the mass of a composite object is the sum of masses of the constituents. But if you want to get more exact about it, the mass of a composite object also includes the binding energy, which is usually negative. So the mass of an atom is slightly less than the sum masses of the protons, neutrons, and electrons. The difference is tiny and only matters when you get into nuclear physics or particle physics.

    In relativity, mass is equivalent to the energy of an object when the object (as a whole) isn't moving.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  12. Mar 28, 2014 #11
    Interesting. This is the reason for my confusion quite frankly

    I agree. quantity has something to do with counting. Mass is measured, is it not?

    Here is the thing I am a beginner, if you might ask, in physics. I am trying to comprehend the foundations of physics, which is matter, atoms, and energy. And I believe if I cannot understand atoms, matter, and energy in its simplest terms, I cannot understand the concepts beyond this. So since we are on the same page, how do you define matter in its simplest terms, since atoms are not the building blocks of matter, and based on your response, particles are matter but not all of them. So to end to all doubt, and since the responses I receive are only descriptions, what is matter?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  13. Mar 28, 2014 #12


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    Matter is a category containing electrons, protons, neutrons, atoms, and some exotic particles.
  14. Mar 28, 2014 #13


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    Unfortunately there is no one definition of matter than is universally accepted.

    For example, an electron is a elementary particle which is not known to have any substructure. That is, it isn't known to be made up of any smaller, less massive particles. Can we classify electrons as "matter"? Certainly. But if we do, we have to know what the properties of the electron are that allows us to classify it as matter. Well, electrons have a certain amount of mass, a specific charge, and several other properties. So can everything with mass, charge, and these other properties be classified as matter? No.

    Take a positron, which is the antiparticle of an electron. It is identical to an electron in every respect other than its electric charge, which is +1 instead of -1. Is a positron generally considered to be matter? Usually, the answer is no, as a positron is usually classified as "antimatter".

    Now, look at a proton. There is far more difference between a proton and an electron than between a positron and an electron. It is MUCH more massive, has a charge of + 1, and isn't even a fundamental particle, yet we still consider a proton to be matter.

    The only concrete answer that I can see is that what falls under "matter" simply depends on convention and context. If I told you that plasma is a state of matter, that doesn't exclude antimatter. Both matter and antimatter can form the same states. (Liquid, solid, etc)

    My advice to you is to not worry about what matter is. Because of its loosely defined nature, it is seldom used whenever talking about actual laws and properties that you need to know.
  15. Mar 28, 2014 #14
    First of all interesting stuff man, I didn't know antimatter not until you gave the information. And I will follow your advice, but not worrying about it too much since it is really bugging me since I became interested in physics. Although, I will still keep matter in mind. Thanks
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