Introduction

The four fundamental states of matter. Clockwise from top left, they are solid, liquid, plasma, and gas, represented by an ice sculpture, a drop of water, electrical arcing from a tesla coil, and the air around clouds, respectively.

In physics, a state of matter is one of the distinct forms in which matter can exist. Four states of matter are observable in everyday life: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Many other states are known to exist, such as glass or liquid crystal, and some only exist under extreme conditions, such as Bose–Einstein condensates, neutron-degenerate matter, and quark-gluon plasma, which only occur, respectively, in situations of extreme cold, extreme density, and extremely high-energy. Some other states are believed to be possible but remain theoretical for now. For a complete list of all exotic states of matter, see the list of states of matter.

Historically, the distinction is made based on qualitative differences in properties. Matter in the solid state maintains a fixed volume and shape, with component particles (atoms, molecules or ions) close together and fixed into place. Matter in the liquid state maintains a fixed volume, but has a variable shape that adapts to fit its container. Its particles are still close together but move freely. Matter in the gaseous state has both variable volume and shape, adapting both to fit its container. Its particles are neither close together nor fixed in place. Matter in the plasma state has variable volume and shape, but as well as neutral atoms, it contains a significant number of ions and electrons, both of which can move around freely.

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