Monday, March 24, 2014

The States of Matter

My son recently came home with a corrected test which covered three states of matter: solid, liquid, gas. His frustration with the test was evident, as you can see in this photo.

The essay portion of the test asked, "Describe how you use the three states of matter in your life every day." He re-wrote the question so that it read, "Describe how you use three of the states of matter in your life every day." To his teacher's credit, she gave him full points for his answer.

It baffles me that we still teach that there are only three states of matter, when clearly there are more. However, this is not a new problem. Years ago, my husband got into trouble with his high school chemistry teacher for arguing (correctly) that plasma - much of the sun is in this state - is a fourth state of matter. Bose-Einstein condensate, a fifth state of matter, was first created in 1995, and a sixth, fermionic condensates, was produced for the first time in 2003.

Less than a month after this test was returned, a possible new state of matter was described in chicken eyes: disordered hyperuniformity. I thought back to my son's answer(s) for question 2 on his recent test: How many forms of matter exist on Earth? He circled three, the expected answer, but then added his own response: "no one knows."

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