Matter, Mass & Volume

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  • 0:00 What is Matter?
  • 0:56 Mass vs. Weight
  • 1:58 Mass vs. Volume
  • 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 completing this lesson, you will be able to explain the difference between matter, mass and volume. You'll also be able to describe how two objects can have the same mass, but different volumes. A short quiz will follow.

What is Matter?

Matter is the stuff in the universe. Too vague? Well, the physics definition says that matter is material that occupies space and has mass. Maybe that one's too specific, so let's get into some details.

When you put something on a balance on Earth, that balance will tell you the mass of an object. Mass is a way of measuring the amount of matter present in an object. Maybe the balance says 6 kilograms, for example. The fact that the object has a mass reading at all, tells you that it contains matter. In fact, everything around you contains matter. You are using your computer right now, possibly sitting at a desk with a notebook and pencil handy. All of these objects are made of matter. Even the air you breathe is matter! It contains atoms and molecules like oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

Mass vs. Weight

So matter is the stuff in the universe, and mass is how we measure that stuff. We measure mass using a balance. Scientists generally like to use kilograms and sometimes grams for objects with small masses, but pounds are okay too.

When most people talk about mass, they use a different word: weight. They might say that you have a weight of 60 kilograms. But in science, mass and weight are not the same thing.

Mass is a measure of how much matter is present, and is measured in kilograms, grams, pounds, or tonnes. Weight is a measure of how strong the force of gravity is, and is measured in newtons.

The reason people get them confused is that they are related. If you have more mass, the force of gravity pulling you to the ground will also be stronger. Gravity has a greater pull on objects with more mass. But that doesn't mean it's right to call the number on the balance your weight. When people do that, they're not using the word correctly.

Mass vs. Volume

Mass can get confusing, because it's hard to judge how much mass something has with your eyes. Here's an example of why: Have you ever heard the old question 'What weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks?' People often get caught up and say, 'A pound of bricks, of course.' But when talking about mass, a pound is just a pound. Neither a pound of bricks nor a pound of feathers weighs more than the other.

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