Amorphous Solid: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition of an…
  • 2:31 Examples
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Have you ever wondered what an amorphous solid is? Continue reading to understand what these types of solids are, and discover why glass is the perfect example of an amorphous solid.

Definition of an Amorphous Solid

I bet you didn't know there is a more technical name for a substance like cotton candy. Cotton candy is what we would call an amorphous solid, and that window glass in your car, and home, etc., is an amorphous solid, too. Mayonnaise and even sweet chocolate mousse are both amorphous solids. So why would a person be able to call items from glass to food amorphous solids? The definition of an amorphous solid is any substance that lacks long-range order or geometrical shape. A great way to remember this type of solid is to think of the prefix 'amorph-', which means lacking shape.

Let's go back to cotton candy for a moment. It certainly doesn't turn into a puddle of liquid the minute you grab a piece. However, it does lack form. It sways to the side, as you move, and can be rolled into a ball of fluff for easy eating. These characteristics all describe what an amorphous solid can do. Let's look at the origin and properties of this solid.

Properties and Origins

A solid is a material that has a defined shape. In chemistry, solids are referred to as states of matter that are not just defined by shape but also volume. There are two types of solids: crystalline and amorphous solids. Think of these as the odd couple. They are complete opposites. Crystalline solids have long-range order, meaning that their structure is very defined and carries a distinct pattern. This is quite different from our friend, the amorphous solid, who lacks rigidity and distinct patterning.

Diagram 1: Two Different Types Of Solids
solid types

A very important point to keep in mind with amorphous solids is its physical properties. Because these solids lack a defined shape, the strength of the bonds that hold the atoms together can vary. Some of those bonds (seen in diagram 1) can be weaker or stronger than others. This contributes to another property of amorphous solids: they do not have a well-defined melting point.

The melting point of this solid can change, depending on the heat applied to the substance. Substance A may melt very fast as the bonds are weak and susceptible to breaking, when heat is applied. On the other hand, substance B may take a longer time to melt as those bonds are much stronger and refuse to break when heat is applied.

Let's look at a few examples of amorphous solids.

Examples of Amorphous Solids

There are several types of examples of amorphous solids, but we will focus on two broad types: soft and rubbery and glass.

Soft or rubbery amorphous solid are materials like mayonnaise, that decadent chocolate mousse and even rubber. Molecules bonded to each other, through intermolecular forces, hold these materials together. So what are intermolecular forces? This is the force of attraction (or repulsion) that occurs between molecules. As you might gather, this type of attraction is not as strong as, say, a bond formed between atoms. However, it is this attraction that contributes to the non-defined shape and form of soft amorphous solids.

Think of it this way: you open up a piece of rubber and look at the molecules used to create it. Those molecules will be twisted and intertwined with each other linked by an intermolecular force. This force is the attraction each of those molecules exhibit towards linking with one another. Now there is no defined shape or form, but the molecules come together to create a flexible, yet solid, substance.

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