Chemistry » Essential Ideas in Chemistry » Phases and Classification of Matter

Conservation of Matter

Mass and Weight

The mass of an object is a measure of the amount of matter in it. One way to measure an object’s mass is to measure the force it takes to accelerate the object. It takes much more force to accelerate a car than a bicycle because the car has much more mass. A more common way to determine the mass of an object is to use a balance to compare its mass with a standard mass.

Although weight is related to mass, it is not the same thing. Weight refers to the force that gravity exerts on an object. This force is directly proportional to the mass of the object. The weight of an object changes as the force of gravity changes, but its mass does not.

An astronaut’s mass does not change just because she goes to the moon. But her weight on the moon is only one-sixth her earth-bound weight because the moon’s gravity is only one-sixth that of the earth’s. She may feel “weightless” during her trip when she experiences negligible external forces (gravitational or any other), although she is, of course, never “massless.”

Law of Conservation of Matter

The law of conservation of matter summarizes many scientific observations about matter: It states that there is no detectable change in the total quantity of matter present when matter converts from one type to another (a chemical change) or changes among solid, liquid, or gaseous states (a physical change).

Brewing beer and the operation of batteries provide examples of the conservation of matter (see image below). During the brewing of beer, the ingredients (water, yeast, grains, malt, hops, and sugar) are converted into beer (water, alcohol, carbonation, and flavoring substances) with no actual loss of substance. This is most clearly seen during the bottling process, when glucose turns into ethanol and carbon dioxide, and the total mass of the substances does not change.

matter-conservation

(a) The mass of beer precursor materials is the same as the mass of beer produced: Sugar has become alcohol and carbonation. (b) The mass of the lead, lead oxide plates, and sulfuric acid that goes into the production of electricity is exactly equal to the mass of lead sulfate and water that is formed. Image credit: OpenStax, Chemistry

This can also be seen in a lead-acid car battery. The original substances (lead, lead oxide, and sulfuric acid), which are capable of producing electricity, are changed into other substances (lead sulfate and water) that do not produce electricity, with no change in the actual amount of matter.

Although this conservation law holds true for all conversions of matter, convincing examples are few and far between because, outside of the controlled conditions in a laboratory, we seldom collect all of the material that is produced during a particular conversion.

For example, when you eat, digest, and assimilate food, all of the matter in the original food is preserved. But because some of the matter is incorporated into your body, and much is excreted as various types of waste, it is challenging to verify by measurement.

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