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Classifying Substances by Their Physical Properties

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  • 0:01 What Are Physical Properties?
  • 1:53 Classifying Substances
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to explain what physical properties are and use them to classify some common substances. A short quiz will follow.

What Are Physical Properties?

Physical properties are features of a substance or object that can be measured or observed without changing the composition of matter. Or in other words, you don't need to make a chemical reaction happen to observe them; you only have to look. There are many physical properties, but let's summarize a few of them.

Mass is an example of a physical property and is defined as a measure of the amount of stuff in an item. You can figure out the mass of an object by simply placing it on a scale.

Related to mass is density, which is the mass per meter cubed, a measure of how much a meter cube of a substance weighs. This can be determined by measuring the dimensions of an object, calculating the volume, and dividing the mass by the volume.

Physical state is another important property. It tells you whether the substance is a solid, liquid, or a gas. Or in other words, it tells you about the arrangement of the molecules, whether they're tightly packed and only able to vibrate (a solid); whether they can slide around each other, causing the material to change shape (a liquid); or whether they are free to move in every direction, causing the material to change shape and volume (a gas).

Melting point and the related boiling point, is another physical property. This tells you the temperature at which the material melts or boils. We can only figure out the melting point by trying to melt or freeze a substance.

And solubility is how easily a material dissolves in water or another solvent. Again, the only way to know this is to try. Put it inside water or other solvents and see what happens.

There are many other physical properties beside these, including appearance, texture, color, odor, polarity, conductivity, magnetic properties, and others. But the above are probably talked about the most in science.

Classifying Substances

These physical properties can be used to classify substances. For example, in the case of physical state, a substance can be either a solid, a liquid, or a gas. Water is liquid at room temperature. But oxygen is a gas at room temperature. And copper metal is a solid.

You can also classify substances by their solubility, putting them in order from most soluble to least soluble in water. You probably know from experience that sugar, salt, food coloring, coffee powder, and many other things are highly soluble in water. But if you put sand in water, you won't have much success. So by comparing these things, we can classify them by their solubility.

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