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For other meanings see gas (disambiguation).

A gas is one of the four main phases of matter (after solid and liquid, and followed by plasma), that subsequently appear as a solid material is subjected to increasingly higher temperatures. (Incidentally, these phases correspond to the four basic elements distinguished in Antiquity: earth (solid), water (liquid), air (gas) and fire (plasma)). Thus, as energy in the form of heat is added, a solid (e.g. ice) will first melt to become a liquid (e.g. water), which will then boil or evaporate to become a gas (e.g. water vapor). In some circumstances, a solid (e.g. "dry ice") can directly turn into a gas: this is called sublimation. If the gas is further heated, its atoms or molecules can become (wholly or partially) ionized, turning the gas into a plasma.

Properties of a gas

In the gas phase, the atoms or molecules constituting the matter basically move independently, with no forces keeping them together or pushing them apart. Their only interactions are rare and random collisions. The particles move in random directions, at high speeds, whose range is dependent on the temperature and defined by the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution. Therefore, the gas phase is a completely disordered state. Following the second law of thermodynamics, gas particles will immediately diffuse to homogeneously fill any shape or volume of space that is made available to them.

The thermodynamic state of a gas is characterized by its volume, its temperature, which is determined by the average velocity or kinetic energy of the molecules, and its pressure, which is determined by the average velocity and density or number of molecules. These variables are related by the fundamental gas laws, which state that the pressure in a gas is proportional to its temperature and number of molecules, but inversely proportional to its volume.

Like liquids and plasmas, gases are fluids: they have the ability to flow and do not tend to return to their former configuration after deformation, although they do have viscosity. Unlike liquids, however, unconstrained gases do not occupy a fixed volume, but expand to fill whatever space they occupy. The kinetic energy per molecule in a gas is the second greatest of the states of matter (after plasma). Because of this high kinetic energy, gas atoms and molecules tend to bounce off of any containing surface and off one another, the more powerfully as the kinetic energy is increased. A common misconception is that the collisions of the molecules with each other is essential to explain gas pressure, but in fact their random velocities are sufficient to define that quantity. Mutual collisions are important only for establishing the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution.

Gas particles are normally well separated, as opposed to liquid particles, which are in contact. A material particle (say a dust mote) in a gas moves in Brownian Motion. Since it is at the limit of (or beyond) current technology to observe individual gas particles (atoms or molecules), only theoretical calculations give suggestions as to how they move, but their motion is different from Brownian Motion. The reason is that Brownian Motion involves a smooth drag due to the frictional force of many gas molecules, punctuated by violent collisions of an individual (or several) gas molecule(s) with the particle. The particle (generally consisting of millions or billions of atoms) thus moves in a jagged course, yet not so jagged as we would expect to find if we could examine an individual gas molecule.


The word "gas" was apparently coined in the early 17th century by the Belgian chemist Jan Baptist van Helmont, as a re-spelling of his pronunciation of the Greek word chaos.

See also

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