Properties of Matter

Different types of matter have different properties.  For example water freezes at 0 deg C or 32 deg F, but oil does not.  They have different properties and it is those properties that makes them useful for a variety of needs.  Plastic is very useful in making bicycle helmets because of its ability to be molded into any shape and retain that shape upon cooling.  Plastic is durable and lightweight.  A wooden helmet would not work so well however.  Wood cannot be melted and poured into a shape.  Wood must be carved and once it was it would be very heavy and not flexible enough to provide absorb the impact of an accident.  So we use plastic for helmets and wood for building houses.

The materials we use to build a bike or a helmet depend on the properties or characteristics of the matter they are made of.  Here are some things you can do to teach your kids about the properties of matter.
Nathan’s bike helmet is made of foam and plastic. But the frame of his bike is made of aluminum. If his bike frame were made of plastic it would could not be both strong and light.

Try this experiment to determine the properties of several materials from around your house.  Some of the properties you will be able to determine on your own and others you will need to look up online or in an encyclopedia.

Learn about the properties of matter with your kids.  Why is this house built of wood?
This house is built of wood. Wood works well for building houses, but many other materials ranging from straw bales to concrete have been used to build houses.   Even plastic is used to build houses.  The material that is best partly depends on the environment the house is in.

Gather several different types of materials and make a table of some of the properties they possess. Include some or all of the following: heat conductivity, melting point, boiling point, solubility in water (can it dissolve in water), elasticity (can it stretch), malleability (can it be pounded into a shape without breaking it), electrical conductivity, and natural state at room temperature.

Try things like:

  • water
  • cooking oil
  • paper
  • aluminum foil
  • copper penny
  • table salt
  • wood
  • cotton fabric
  • plastic grocery sack
  • sugar

Additional Layers

  • The properties of water are unique and incredible.  It is one of the few substances that is found in all three states, solid, liquid, and gas, at normal temperatures on earth.  It also becomes less dense in its solid state than in it’s liquid state.  If it didn’t ice would sink instead of floating.  Make a poster showing the water cycle and how all three states of water are important on Earth.
  • The properties of matter come from the molecular structure of the atoms and the way they behave with one another.  Learn more about the structure of atoms.
  • Take a tour of your house to see how you use properties of matter in your daily life.
  • Much of technology is based on understanding properties of matter and using them to our advantage.  For example, silicone has always been around on earth, but only very recently did humans learn to use the properties of silicone to make chips to run computers and other electronic devices.  Learn the history and mechanics of your favorite piece of technology, whether that is your cell phone, your ipod, or your Wii.
  • Speaking of bicycle helmets, why bother?  Do some research to find out how a helmet protects you in case of a crash.  Do they really make a difference?  Write a convincing paper on why a “brain bucket” is an indispensable piece of equipment
  • Did you know that not all fires can be put out with water?  That is because of the properties of the burning matter.  If you put water on certain fires, chemical or oil, you can make things much worse.  Find out what is in your family fire extinguisher and how the chemicals work with certain materials to put out the fire.
  • Make up a ridiculous story where people use all the wrong materials in doing jobs and the mishaps and mayhem that would cause.  Imagine a wooden frying pan or a metal hot pad . . . yikes!

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