Matter in our surroundings, Elements, Compounds, Mixtures

Matter in our surroundings, Elements, Compounds, Mixtures

Matter is any thing which has mass and occupies space. All solids, liquids and gases around us are made of matter. Scientist believe that matter is made of tiny particles that clump together. You cannot see these particles but you can see the matter, for example, a book, a car, a letter, a hand set, a piece of wood, tree, a bag etc.

A substance is a pure kind of matter having only one kind of constituent particle (atom or molecule). Water, iron, gold, copper, aluminum and oxygen are examples of substances. All substances are matter but all forms of matter are not substances.


Elements All substances are made up of chemical elements. A chemical element is a basic form of matter that cannot be chemically broken down into simpler substances. A chemical element is a pure substance and it consists of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number. Examples of some elements are : helium, carbon, iron, gold, silver, copper, aluminum, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, copper, chlorine, iodine, uranium, and plutonium.

Elements are the building blocks of the Universe. In total, 114 elements have been listed so far. Out of the total 114 known elements, about 90 occur naturally on Earth and the remaining have been synthesized artificially by nuclear reactions. Only two elements namely hydrogen (92%) and helium (7%) make up about 99% of the total mass of the Universe. The remaining elements contribute only 1% to the total mass of the Universe.

Out of about 90 elements found naturally on Earth, two elements silicon and oxygen together make up almost three-quarters of the Earth’s crust. Our body is also composed of elements but the composition of elements in human body is very much different from that of the Earth’s crust.

Chemical element, also called element, any substance that cannot be decomposed into simpler substances by ordinary chemical processes. Elements are the fundamental materials of which all matter is composed.

At present there are 118 known chemical elements. About 20 percent of them do not exist in nature (or are present only in trace amounts) and are known only because they have been synthetically prepared in the laboratory. Of the known elements, 11 (hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine, and the six noble gases) are gases under ordinary conditions, two (bromine and mercury) are liquids (two more, cesium and gallium, melt at about or just above room temperature), and the rest are solids. Elements can combine with one another to form a wide variety of more complex substances called compounds.

The number of possible compounds is almost infinite; perhaps a million are known, and more are being discovered every day. When two or more elements combine to form a compound, they lose their separate identities, and the product has characteristics quite different from those of the constituent elements. The gaseous elements hydrogen and oxygen, for example, with quite different properties, can combine to form the compound water, which has altogether different properties from either oxygen or hydrogen. Water clearly is not an element because it consists of, and actually can be decomposed chemically into, the two substances hydrogen and oxygen; these two substances, however, are elements because they cannot be decomposed into simpler substances by any known chemical process. Most samples of naturally occurring matter are physical mixtures of compounds. Seawater, for example, is a mixture of water and a large number of other compounds, the most common of which is sodium chloride, or table salt. Mixtures differ from compounds in that they can be separated into their component parts by physical processes; for example, the simple process of evaporation separates water from the other compounds in seawater.



The Atomic Nature Of The Elements

Paralleling the development of the concept of elements was an understanding of the nature of matter. At various times in history, matter has been considered to be either continuous or discontinuous. Continuous matter is postulated to be homogeneous and divisible without limit, each part exhibiting identical properties regardless of size. This was essentially the point of view taken by Aristotle when he associated his elemental qualities with continuous matter. Discontinuous matter, on the other hand, is conceived of as particulate—that is, divisible only up to a point, the point at which certain basic units called atoms are reached. According to this concept, also known as the atomic hypothesis, subdivision of the basic unit (atom) could give rise only to particles with profoundly different properties. Atoms, then, would be the ultimate carriers of the properties associated with bulk matter.

The atomic hypothesis is usually credited to the Greek philosopher Democritus, who considered all matter to be composed of atoms of the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water. But Aristotle’s concept of continuous matter generally prevailed and influenced thought until experimental findings in the 16th century forced a return to the atomic theory. Two types of experimental evidence gave support to the atomic hypothesis: first, the detailed behaviour of gaseous substances and, second, the quantitative weight relationships observed with a variety of chemical reactions. The English chemist John Dalton was the first to explain the empirically derived laws of chemical combination by postulating the existence of atoms with unique sets of properties. At the time, chemical combining power (valence) and relative atomic weights were the properties of most interest. Subsequently numerous independent experimental verifications of the atomic hypothesis were carried out, and today it is universally accepted. Indeed, in 1969 individual uranium and thorium atoms were actually observed by means of an electron microscope.


Chemical compound, any substance composed of identical molecules consisting of atoms of two or more chemical elements.

All the matter in the universe is composed of the atoms of more than 100 different chemical elements, which are found both in pure form and combined in chemical compounds. A sample of any given pure elementis composed only of the atoms characteristic of that element, and the atoms of each element are unique. For example, the atoms that constitute carbon are different from those that make up iron, which are in turn different from those of gold. Every element is designated by a unique symbol consisting of one, two, or three letters arising from either the current element name or its original (often Latin) name. For example, the symbols for carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are simply C, H, and O, respectively. The symbol for iron is Fe, from its original Latin name ferrum. The fundamental principle of the science of chemistry is that the atoms of different elements can combine with one another to form chemical compounds. Methane, for example, which is formed from the elements carbon and hydrogen in the ratio four hydrogen atoms for each carbon atom, is known to contain distinct CH4 molecules. The formula of a compound—such as CH4—indicates the types of atoms present, with subscripts representing the relative numbers of atoms.

Chemical compounds show a bewildering array of characteristics. At ordinary temperatures and pressures, some are solids, some are liquids, and some are gases. The colours of the various compounds span those of the rainbow. Some compounds are highly toxic to humans, whereas others are essential for life. Substitution of only a single atom within a compound may be responsible for changing the colour, odour, or toxicity of a substance. So that some sense can be made out of this great diversity, classification systems have been developed. An example cited above classifies compounds as molecular or ionic. Compounds are also classified as organic or inorganic. Organic compounds (see below Organic compounds), so called because many of them were originally isolated from living organisms, typically contain chains or rings of carbon atoms. Because of the great variety of ways that carbon can bond with itself and other elements, there are more than nine million organic compounds. The compounds that are not considered to be organic are called inorganic compounds.

Within the broad classifications of organic and inorganic are many subclasses, mainly based on the specific elements or groups of elements that are present. For example, among the inorganic compounds, oxidescontain O2− ions or oxygen atoms, hydrides contain H ions or hydrogen atoms, sulfides contain S2− ions, and so forth. Subclasses of organic compounds include alcohols (which contain the ―OH group), carboxylic acids (characterized by the ―COOH group), amines (which have an ―NH2 group), and so on.

Some Important Organic Compounds


The chemical compounds of living things are known as organic compounds because of their association with organisms and because they are carbon-containing compounds. Organic compounds, which are the compounds associated with life processes, are the subject matter of organic chemistry. Among the numerous types of organic compounds, four major categories are found in all living things: carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids.





Carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids.





Almost all organisms use carbohydrates as sources of energy. In addition, some carbohydrates serve as structural materials. Carbohydrates are molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen; the ratio of hydrogen atoms to oxygen and carbon atoms is 2:1.

Simple carbohydrates commonly referred to as sugars, can be monosaccharides if they are composed of single molecules, or disaccharides if they are composed of two molecules. The most important monosaccharide is glucose, a carbohydrate with the molecular formula C6H12O6. Glucose is the basic form of fuel in living things. In multicellular organisms, it is soluble and is transported by body fluids to all cells, where it is metabolized to release its energy. Glucose is the starting material for cellular respiration, and it is the main product of photosynthesis

Three important disaccharides are also found in living things: maltose, sucrose, and lactose. Maltose is a combination of two glucose units covalently linked. The table sugar sucrose is formed by linking glucose to another monosaccharide called fructose.  Lactose is composed of glucose and galactose units.

Complex carbohydrates are known as polysaccharides.Polysaccharides are formed by linking innumerable monosaccharides. Among the most important polysaccharides is starch, which is composed of hundreds or thousands of glucose units linked to one another. Starch serves as a storage form for carbohydrates. Much of the world’s human population satisfies its energy needs with starch in the form of rice, wheat, corn, and potatoes.

Two other important polysaccharides are glycogen and cellulose. Glycogen is also composed of thousands of glucose units, but the units are bonded in a different pattern than in starch. Glycogen is the form in which glucose is stored in the human liver. Cellulose is used primarily as a structural carbohydrate. It is also composed of glucose units, but the units cannot be released from one another except by a few species of organisms. Wood is composed chiefly of cellulose, as are plant cell walls. Cotton fabric and paper are commercial cellulose products.




Lipids are organic molecules composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. The ratio of hydrogen atoms to oxygen atoms is much higher in lipids than in carbohydrates. Lipids include steroids (the material of which many hormones are composed), waxes, and fats.

The fatty acids in a fat may all be alike or they may all be different. They are bound to the glycerol molecule by a process that involves the removal of water.

Certain fatty acids have one or more double bonds in their molecules. Fats that include these molecules are unsaturated fats. Other fatty acids have no double bonds. Fats that include these fatty acids are saturated fats. In most human health situations, the consumption of unsaturated fats is preferred to the consumption of saturated fats.

Fats stored in cells usually form clear oil droplets called globulesbecause fats do not dissolve in water. Plants often store fats in their seeds, and animals store fats in large, clear globules in the cells of adipose tissue. The fats in adipose tissue contain much concentrated energy. Hence, they serve as a reserve energy supply to the organism. The enzyme lipase breaks down fats into fatty acids and glycerol in the human digestive system.



Proteins, among the most complex of all organic compounds, are composed of amino acids, which contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen atoms. Certain amino acids also have sulfur atoms, phosphorus, or other trace elements such as iron or copper.

Many proteins are immense and extremely complex. However, all proteins are composed of long chains of relatively simple amino acids. There are 20 kinds of amino acids.

Examples of amino acids are alanine, valine, glutamic acid, tryptophan, tyrosine, and histidine.

The removal of water molecules links amino acids to form a protein. The process is called dehydration synthesis, and a by-product of the synthesis is water. The links forged between the amino acids are peptide bonds, and small proteins are often called peptides.

All living things depend on proteins for their existence. Proteins are the major molecules from which living things are constructed. Certain proteins are dissolved or suspended in the watery substance of the cells, while others are incorporated into various structures of the cells. Proteins are also found as supporting and strengthening materials in tissues outside of cells. Bone, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments are all composed of proteins.

One essential function of proteins is as an enzyme. Enzymes catalyze the chemical reactions that take place within cells. They are not used up in a reaction; rather, they remain available to catalyze succeeding reactions.


Like proteins, nucleic acids are very large molecules. The nucleic acids are composed of smaller units called nucleotides. Each nucleotide contains a carbohydrate molecule (sugar), a phosphate group, and a nitrogen-containing molecule that, because of its properties, is a nitrogenous base.

Living organisms have two important nucleic acids. One type is deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. The other is ribonucleic acid, or RNA.DNA is found primarily in the nucleus of the cell, while RNA is found in both the nucleus and the cytoplasm, a semiliquid substance that composes the volume of the cell.

DNA and RNA differ from one another in their components. DNA contains the carbohydrate deoxyribose, while RNA has ribose. In addition, DNA contains the base thymine, while RNA has uracil.




Mixtures are the substances composed of two or more forms of matter. You can separate them by physical methods. Examples include a solution of salt and water, mixture of sugar and water, different gases, air, etc. In any mixture, the various components do not combine through any kind of chemical changes. Therefore, the components do not lose their individual properties.

When a sample of matter has the same composition throughout, we call that substance a homogeneous substance. A cup of water will have the same chemical composition throughout (symbol for water). That makes it a homogeneous substance. A piece of gold will also have the same chemical composition, making it a homogenous substance. Homogeneous Mixtures behave in a similar way — the substance formed appear to have the same chemical composition. Alloys and Solutions are Homogeneous mixtures.

A mixture can also result in two or more phases clearly separated by boundaries. Very often, the separation can be clearly seen by the eye. A heterogeneous mixture is one that does not have uniform properties and composition. Take a look at a bowl of cereal with nuts. A spoon full will surely have a different number of nuts than a second spoonful taken at random. Another example—take some sea-sand into your palms. Look at it closely and you will notice that some sand particles are bigger than others, and the colors of some particles may be different too.

Mixtures are absolutely everywhere you look. Most things in nature are mixtures. Look at rocks, the ocean, or even the atmosphere. They are all mixtures, and mixtures are about physical properties, not chemical ones. That statement means the individual molecules enjoy being near each other, but their fundamental chemical structure does not change when they enter the mixture. If the chemical structure changed, it would be called a reaction.

There are an infinite number of mixtures. Anything you can combine is a mixture. Think of everything you eat. Just think about how many cakes there are. Each of those cakes is made up of a different mixture of ingredients. Even the wood in your pencil is considered a mixture. There is the basic cellulose of the wood, but there are also thousands of other compounds in that pencil. Solutions are also mixtures, but all of the molecules are evenly spread out through the system. They are called homogenous mixtures.

If you put sand into a glass of water, it is considered to be a mixture. You can always tell a mixture, because each of the substances can be separated from the group in different physical ways. You can always get the sand out of the water by filtering the water away. If you were busy, you could just leave the sand and water mixture alone for a few minutes. Sometimes mixtures separate on their own. When you come back, you will find that all of the sand has sunk to the bottom. Gravity was helping you with the separation. Don’t forget that a mixture can also be made of two liquids. Even something as simple as oil and water is a mixture.


There are a few more words you might hear when people talk about mixtures. We can’t cover all of them, but we’ll give you a quick overview of the biggies. Alloys are basically a mixture of two or more metals. Don’t forget that there are many elements on the periodic table. Elements like calcium (Ca) and potassium (K) are considered metals. Of course, there are also metals like silver (Ag) and gold (Au). You can also have alloys that include small amounts of non-metallic elements like carbon (C). Metals are the key thing to remember for alloys.



Let’s finish up with a little information on emulsions. These special colloids (another type of mixture) have a mixture of oils and waters. Think about a bottle of salad dressing. Before you mix it, there are two separate layers of liquids. When you shake the bottle, you create an emulsion. As time passes, the oil and water will separate, because emulsions are mixtures.

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