Matter is the raw material of the universe. Stars, planets, mountains, oceans, and atmospheres are all made of matter. So are plants and animals—including humans and every material thing we have ever produced. Amazingly, this immense variety is generated by a limited number of chemical elements that combine in simple, well-defined ways.
Starting with a deck of cards tossed into the air, explore the key concepts of matter, energy, and entropy, which are the building blocks of the physical universe. Study examples of these phenomena, and see how they are demonstrated by the behavior of the airborne cards.
Trace a scientific revolution that started with a curious observation about light and a seemingly nonsensical explanation. Learn how Max Planck’s proposal that energy is related to frequency, and Albert Einstein’s application of this principle to light, gave birth to modern physics.
Discover how the idea that light comes in discrete packets called “quanta” led to a startling new theory of matter: quantum mechanics. One prediction is that matter, like light, behaves as both a particle and a wave, a property observed in subatomic particles such as electrons.
Understand atomic and molecular structure with the help of a simple analogy: the rooms of a house and the collection of houses in a city. See how the electrons of an atom occupy shells, subshells, and orbitals, which give atoms and molecules their distinctive properties.
Where did atoms come from? Trace the story of nucleosynthesis – the formation of complex nuclei and atoms. Cover this process from the big bang, which filled the universe with hydrogen and helium, to the events inside stars that produced practically all of the heavier elements.
Investigate an astonishingly powerful scientific tool: the periodic table of the elements. Delve into the insights that led Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev to construct the first modern version of the table in the 1860s, and explore the world of information it contains.
Embark on an atomic adventure that explains the differences between vitamins and minerals, among other marvels of the chemical realm. Use your background in electron shell structure from Lecture 4 to understand why atoms form ionic and covalent bonds.
Study the amazing properties of the carbon atom, which can attach itself to other carbon atoms to form the hardest known mineral (diamond) and also one of the softest (graphite). It all depends on the geometry of the bonds. Discover other types of pure carbon: fullerenes, nanotubes, and graphene.
Analyze one of the weirdest of all substances: water. While we think of water as normal, its boiling, freezing, dissolving, and heat-storing properties are quite extraordinary compared to other molecules. Discover why this is and what water’s attributes have to do with the existence of life.
Explore the nature of chemical solutions, which can be liquid, solid, or gaseous, and are ubiquitous in daily life. Examples include dental fillings, air, blood, and soft drinks. Study the components of a solution – the solvent and solute – and the principles of what dissolves what.
Probe the forces that allow lizards to walk up walls: adhesion and cohesion, which are ways that materials interact with themselves and with other materials. By examining these forces in depth, learn how adhesives work and why cotton makes the best towels.
A surface is a discontinuity, or interface, between one phase of matter and another. Focus on this crucial boundary, which affects everything from a spacecraft reentering the atmosphere to the efficient washing of clothes. Explore surface phenomena such as films, surface tension, and catalysts.
Delve into the richness of organic chemistry – the study of carbon compounds that have links to living things. Learn some of the basic terminology, and survey common organic compounds such as alkanes, alcohols, ethers, aldehydes, ketones, organic acids, and esters.
Today, medicine can replace many parts of the human body thanks to an improved understanding of materials and their biochemistry. Trace the progress in body implants from dental fillings and tooth implants to artificial hips, knees, hearts, arteries, and breast implants.
Explore the chemistry of food and drink from the point of view of the cook and the consumer. What are the chemicals in an egg, a piece of toast, a slice of bacon, and other typical foods? How does cooking transform them, and how are the chemicals utilized by our bodies?
Study the different ways that stored chemical energy is released in substances such as gasoline, coal, natural gas, nitroglycerine, and TNT. Learn the difference between detonation, which is what high explosives do, and deflagration, which happens to the fuel in an internal combustion engine.
Analyze the mix of gases in air, from the most abundant – nitrogen and oxygen – to minor constituents such as argon and carbon dioxide. Explore the phenomenon of air pressure and how it affects human life. Also chart the worrisome increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The rise of civilization went hand in hand with advances in the understanding of materials. Learn how the Stone Age gave way to the Bronze Age and then the Iron Age, as ancient people learned to smelt ore and manipulate the properties of metals and alloys.
The mystery of a bouncing rubber ball launches you into the study of polymers – long molecules with many repeating subunits. Explore their immense variety, from “poly” synthetics like polyethylene and polyester to organic molecules such as proteins, carbohydrates, and DNA.
Investigate the ease of recycling some materials, such as aluminum and asphalt, and the impracticality of reusing others, such as certain plastics. Look at the different types of plastic, metal, paper, and glass, and discover what you can put in the recycle bin and why.
Under special conditions, some materials lose all resistance to electron flow, becoming superconductors that transmit electricity with 100 percent efficiency. Probe this phenomenon at the atomic level, and learn how scientists are discovering new, more practical superconducting materials.
How does a tiny piece of impure silicon launch an electronics revolution? Follow the development of semiconductors from the invention of the transistor in the 1940s to ever-smaller circuits that are now measured in nanometers. Along the way, discover how today’s complex microchips are made.
When different materials combine to create something very unlike its individual components, you have a composite. Learn what gives composites superior properties. Explore a wide range of examples, including concrete, carbon fiber, fiberglass, Kevlar, automobile tires, carbon nanotubes, and aerogel.
Close your study of the nature of matter by looking ahead at ambitious goals for future materials, and review examples of past science fiction that’s now science fact. Achievements like the Moon landings and the Internet suggest that nanoscale technologies, a cure for cancer, and other dreams may one day become reality.