Science 101: What causes the different states of matter?by: William C. Robertson, Ph.D.

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The answer to this could be really simple or really complicated, depending on how deeply the issue is covered. Therefore, the author will dispense with the really complicated by limiting the discussion to solids, liquids, and gases. There are many other states of matter, including plasmas, superfluids, and Bose-Einstein condensates (!). Because this is a column and not a book, you’ll have to look up those other states of matter elsewhere. Even though we’re staying simple, you might get a surprise or two, such as the fact that it’s possible for iron to be a gas, and it’s possible to have liquid or even solid hydrogen.

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Reviews (6)
  • on Tue Jan 31, 2012 8:23 PM

This was the first article I read on NSTA. I was extremely worried because I haven't had a science class in over 30 years, but this was an easy read and a fun read. I want to give this a try. I love the idea of the rubber ball and magnets model the 3 states of matter. GREAT IDEA

Barbara Smith  (American Falls, ID)
Barbara Smith (American Falls, ID)

  • on Wed Aug 24, 2011 2:41 PM

This article is an excellent resource for teachers looking to increase or review their content knowledge of the different states of matter. Using rubber balls covered with magnets, the author describes how to use a simple, yet effective, model to investigate and explore how molecules bond to form the different states of matter. This is an excellent article for professional development.

Maureen Stover  (Seaside, CA)
Maureen Stover (Seaside, CA)

  • on Tue Jul 05, 2011 5:54 PM

When one learns about why we have solids, liquids and gases in our natural world one has to look at atoms first. From atoms to molecules and then how temperature and pressure affects their state of matter. Lastly we look at bonding to fully understand which state of matter is created from molecules of more than one element. The article also talks about the unique characteristics of water molecules. This article should be a must read for all elementary teachers.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

  • on Mon Mar 21, 2016 8:20 PM

This is a good resource for explaining molecular motion with regards to states of matter. The author does make it a bit complicated for elementary students, however. It could be adapted for a middle grades classroom.

Steve  (St. Johns, FL)
Steve (St. Johns, FL)

  • on Tue Sep 03, 2013 11:09 AM

Bill Robertson does a nice job of discussing what causes the different states of matter. He uses balls covered with magnets to illustrate part of this. Toward the end of the article, things get a bit confusing. This article is definitely directed toward middle school teachers and up.

Betty Paulsell  (Kansas City, MO)
Betty Paulsell (Kansas City, MO)

  • on Fri May 20, 2011 10:27 AM

The analogy chosen to demonstrate that molecular motion (temperature) determines the state of matter could get very confusing. The balls are at once representing atoms and molecules. The idea of "sticking together" when motion is slower confuses bonding and phase change. I would stay away from this.


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