# What is the particle model of matter?

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More than 2000 years ago in Greece, a philosopher named Democritus suggested that matter is made up of tiny particles too small to be seen.
1. The Particle Model of Matter 5.1
More than 2000 years ago in Greece, a philosopher named
Democritus suggested that matter is made up of tiny particles too
small to be seen. He thought that if you kept cutting a substance into
smaller and smaller pieces, you would eventually come to the
smallest possible particles—the building blocks of matter.
Many years later, scientists came back to Democritus’ idea and
added to it. The theory they developed is called the particle model
of matter.
LEARNING TIP
There are four main ideas in the particle model:
Are you able to explain the
1. All matter is made up of tiny particles. particle model of matter in
examine the illustration
that goes with each.
2. The particles of matter are always moving.
3. The particles have spaces between them.
4. Adding heat to matter makes the particles move faster.
heat
Scientists find the particle model useful for two reasons. First,
it provides a reasonable explanation for the behaviour of matter.
Second, it presents a very important idea—the particles of matter
are always moving. Matter that seems perfectly motionless is not
motionless at all. The air you breathe, your books, your desk, and
even your body all consist of particles that are in constant motion.
Thus, the particle model can be used to explain the properties of
solids, liquids, and gases. It can also be used to explain what happens
in changes of state (Figure 1 on the next page).
NEL 5.1 The Particle Model of Matter 117
2. The particles in a solid are held together strongly. The spaces
between the particles are very small.
A solid has a fixed shape and a fixed volume because the
particles can move only a little. The particles vibrate back and
forth but remain in their fixed positions.
As a solid is heated, the particles vibrate faster and faster until
they have enough energy to break away from their fixed positions.
When this happens, the particles can move about more freely. The
change from a solid to a liquid is called melting.
The reverse of melting is called freezing or solidification. This is
the change from a liquid to a solid. As a liquid cools, the particles
in the liquid lose energy and move more and more slowly. When
they settle into fixed positions, the liquid has frozen or solidified.
The particles in a liquid are separated by spaces that are large
enough to allow the particles to slide past each other.
A liquid takes the shape of its container because the particles
can move around more freely than they can in a solid. They are
held close together, however. Therefore, a liquid has a fixed
volume, like a solid.
When a liquid absorbs heat energy, the particles move about
more and more quickly. Some of the particles gain enough
energy to break free of the other particles. When this happens,
the liquid changes to a gas. The change from a liquid to a gas is
called evaporation.
The reverse process—the change from a gas to a liquid—is called
condensation. As a gas cools, the particles in the gas lose energy
and move more and more slowly until the gas condenses to a liquid.
The particles in a gas are separated by much larger spaces than
the particles in a liquid or a solid. Therefore, a gas is mostly
empty space.
A gas always fills whatever container it is in. Since the particles
are moving constantly in all directions, they spread throughout
their container, no matter what volume or shape their container is.
Figure 1
Explaining changes of state using the particle model
118 Unit B Chemistry NEL