# How Many States of Matter are There? 3, 4 or 5?

Ok, we can all agree on the easy ones…Gas, Liquid and Solid.

I read somewhere that a Bose-Einstein Condensate can be considered a 4th state of matter.

I had also heard somewhere that Plasma (i.e. what matter in a star is like) can be considered a 4th state of matter.

I don’t remember where I read all these goodies so I thought I’d ask the Dopers for some help. So which is it: 3, 4 or 5 states of matter?

One other thing…I thought the different ‘states’ of matter are defined as points where a ‘phase transition’ of the matter takes place. Right or wrong on this?

I’ve always heard 4: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.

IIRC, for plasma you don’t have to look towards the Sun. Any old candle flame is made of plasma: hot, ionized gas.

I’ve heard Bose-Einstein condensate referred to as a 5th state of matter, too.

Ok, to make things more complicated, what happens as you keep upping the temperature?
Don’t you get something else again, a quark-gluon plasma?

I’ve heard of this thing too. In fact, I think someone somewhere is about to make some in a atom smasher in the near future (few weeks or months). I remember this because supposedly some scientist is trying to stop the experiment. I guess there is a remote chance that this could produce Strangelets(?) that under some bizarre circumstances could gobble-up the entire earth and turn it into a big heap-'o-strangelets (incidentally destroying all life along the way). Naturally the people wanting to do the experiment are poo-pooing the notion and the courts seem to agree and will let the experiment proceed.

As to whether a quark-gluon plasma counts as a sixth state of matter (assuming there are 5 as suggested in the OP) I have no idea.

You’re referring to RHIC.
http://www.pubaf.bnl.gov/pr/bnlpr071999.html

Cosmic Rays pack a far bigger punch. If one of them could destroy the universe, there are a lot more of them then there are colliders.

The reason the collider cool is that it’s easier to study the results of a collision

http://rhip.phys.utk.edu/rhip/RHICNews/will_the_earth_be_destroyed.htm

I remember this whole inflated story making it’s way onto /. and being discussed endlessly and at length by people with about the same knowledge of high energy physics as me.
i.e. not very much.

Just thought of another. What is a neutron star made up of?
http://astro.uchicago.edu/home/web/miller/nstar.html

I would LOVE to gt this question (How many states of matter are there?) on Who Wants to be a Millionaire! I’d purposely get the question wrong so no matter how far I went (assuming it wasn’t the million dollar question) I could always argue their people had the wrong answer and I deserve another shot. Probably work the way this thing post is going!

Quoth Jeff_42:

Dead on, if by “future” you mean “past” CERN managed to pull it off a couple of months ago-- I’ll dig up a URL for you’uns later.

By varying enough conditions (temperature, pressure, composition, etc), there’s no practical limit on how many states of matter you could come up with-- When people say 3, they mean three familiar ones.

I distinctly remember hearing or reading on several occasions that helium II (superfluid helium) is a state of matter.

I vaguely recall metallic hydrogen being called a state of matter on at least one occasion.

I had the same idea **Kyberneticist ** did about neutron-star-stuff. Great minds think alike.

More about Bose-Einstein condensates from the Encyclopedia Britannica

Quick question. If the condensate maintains a single quantum state, doesn’t this offer the possibility of the entire collection containing a single bit of information?
Doesn’t this imply moving faster then the speed of light? Could this be used in computer memory and switches to dramatically speed up operations?

I mean, at the moment, it doesn’t matter, but I remember a Stansilaw Lem book (one with the ultra paranoic aliens) where the main computer DEUS was a series of small blocks a few centimeters in diameter each representing the absolute maximum in computation since any larger would result in inefficiencies due to the speed of light.

If this condensate acts as a single atom it seems like it would be ideal for very carefully built circuitry with no limits due to light speed.

This site calls liquid metallic hydrogen a “new state of matter.” I’m not sure how “new” it is, really. It has been speculated that it exists in Jupiter.

There are other superfluids besides helium II. See Molecular hydrogen should become superfluid. There is some fundamental connection between Bose-Einstein condensates and superfluids, I am sure, but I don’t know what it is exactly. To confuse the situation more, EB has

Would this then be properly called a Fermi condensate? I’m more confused now than when I started reading this thread.

No, Bosons (particles with integer spin) condense into the same state as they cool. Fermions (particles whose spin is an integer plus 1/2) will not settle into a state occupied by another fermion.

As to how many states of matter there are. I’d say there are three states that we commonly see. (If you count plasma, four, since you do see the sun.) The others, while I guess they could be considered states of matter, we don’t commonly see them. Also, new and more exotic ones seem to pop up all the time.

I postulate that there is only one state of matter, infinitely variable.
Ok, I read this theory somewhere. In a doctors office, probably.
Peace,
mangeorge

I think you call something a different state of matter if it has fundamentally different properties from matter in other physical situations. Here is a list of different states of matter I have picked up in my reading.

1. Solid
2. Liquid
3. Gas
4. Plasma
5. Superfluid – Helium II
6. Bose-Einstein condensate
7. Superconductor – though solid in form, it has fundamentally different electrical properties.
8. Neutronium – the stuff neutron stars are made of.
9. Supercritical fluid
10. Quark-Gluon soup – pump in enough energy and you force the quarks to dissociate out of the baryons.

Kyberneticist,
I have read Dragon’s Egg. Twice. I really enjoyed it. Forward does a good job of writing stories dealing with exotic physics. Have you read Timemaster or Rocheworld?

bibliophage,
The reason you can’t have Fermi condensate is that fermions (particles with integer + 1/2 spins) follow the Pauli Exclusion Principle which basically says that two fermions cannot occupy the same quantum state. Bosons (particles with integer spin) are not bound by the Pauli Exclusion Principle.

Helium-3 superfluid is still a Bose-Einstein condensate, because the helium atoms pair off. Each pair then acts like a single particle, a boson, and they condense. This is much more difficult than atoms that are bosons by themselves, like He-4. I think that the “single quantum state” business only applies if you’re doing non-relativistic quantum mechanics, in which case you’re ignoring the speed of light-- In a proper analysis, yes, it’s still subject to the speed limitation.
Another example of a phase change: Metals, when heated sufficiently, change their magnetic properties at a temperature called the “Curie point”. For example, iron below that temperature is ferromagnetic (has memory of past magnetization), but above that temperature, it’s paramagnetic (still sticks to magnets, but won’t become permanently magnetized itself)

I loved Dragon’s Egg - read it over n over too. It had a few problems, mainly in not going alien enough with such a wild environment, but a fun use of physics!
Similar problems with Timemaster and Rocheworld. Clever ideas, but rather pulpy. Especially Timemaster.
Since we seem to be collecting cool physics/worlds, have you ever read the Smoke [might not be right name] series? (white dwarf at center of bubble of human breathable atmosphere)

Chronos said

Thank you. Things are starting to look a littler clearer, finally. But if superfluid [sup]4[/sup]He and [sup]3[/sup]He are Bose-Einstein condensates, why do I find so many references to the “fact” that Bose-Einstein condensates weren’t produced in the laboratory until the 1990s?

Encyclopedia Britannica has both “Bose-Einstein condensates were first produced in 1995” and “Superfluidity in helium-4 was discovered in 1938.”

The number of possible states of matter is limited only by your ability to perceive them.

The three common states of matter that we are familiar with on earth are solid, liquid, and gas. However, plasma is the most
abundant form of matter in the universe. Over 99% of the universe is composed of plasma. In the solid, liquid, and gaseous
form of matter electrons are bound to the atomic nucleus. A plasma is created when enough heat is applied to remove the
electrons from the grip of the atomic nucleus. It is this form of matter that is used in the fusion process of the Sun. Examples of
plasmas on earth are neon signs, fluorescent lights, and nature’s own lightening.