List of states of matter

Classically, states of matter are distinguished by changes in the properties of matter related to external factors such as pressure and temperature. States are usually distinguished by a discontinuity in one of those properties: for example, raising the temperature of ice produces a clear discontinuity at 0 °C as energy goes into phase transition, instead of temperature increase. The classical states of matter are usually summarised as: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. In the 20th century, increased understanding of the more exotic properties of matter resulted in the identification of many additional states of matter, none of which are observed in normal conditions.

Low-energy states

Classical states

  • Solid: A solid holds a definite shape and volume without a container. The particles are held very close to each other.
    • Amorphous solid: A solid in which there is no far-range order of the positions of the atoms.
    • Crystalline solid: A solid in which atoms, molecules, or ions are packed in regular order.
    • Plastic crystal: A molecular solid with long-range positional order but with constituent molecules retaining rotational freedom.
    • Quasi-crystal: A solid in which the positions of the atoms have long-range order, but is not in a repeating pattern.
  • Liquid: A mostly non-compressible fluid. Able to conform to the shape of its container but retaining a (nearly) constant volume independent of pressure.
    • Liquid crystal: Properties intermediate between liquids and crystals. Generally, able to flow like a liquid but exhibiting long-range order.
    • Disordered hyperuniformity: A state similar to a liquid and a crystal in properties. Like a crystal, its particles over large distances exhibit uniform density and are unable to compress. Like a liquid, its particles at smaller distances display the same physical properties in all directions.
  • Gas: A compressible fluid. Not only will a gas conform to the shape of its container but it will also expand to fill the container.
  • Plasma: Free charged particles, usually in equal numbers, such as ions and electrons. Unlike gases, plasmas may self-generate magnetic fields and electric currents, and respond strongly and collectively to electromagnetic forces.

Modern states

Very high energy states

  • Quark–gluon plasma: A phase in which quarks become free and able to move independently (rather than being perpetually bound into particles, or bound to each other in a quantum lock where exerting force adds energy and eventually solidifies into another quark) in a sea of gluons (subatomic particles that transmit the strong force that binds quarks together). May be briefly attainable in particle accelerators, or possibly inside neutron stars.
    • For up to 10−36 seconds after the Big Bang, the energy density of the universe was so high that the four forces of nature strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravitational are thought to have been unified into one single force. The state of matter in this time is unknown. As the universe expanded, the temperature and density dropped and the gravitational force separated, which is a process called symmetry breaking.
    • For up to 10−12 seconds after the Big Bang, most scientists think that the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces were unified. The state of matter in this time is unknown.
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