What is matter?

What is matter?

In highschool we all came to know what matter is, a simple way of saying it would be that  everything is made up from small building blocks. The first layer of this small building blocks are very small pieces known as molecules. Molecules are made up from smaller particles called atoms that are joined to each other. Atoms in turn are made up from even smaller particles, protons, neutrons, electrons.

Suppose you have a glass of water and ask how many atoms are there in the water? The answer is, roughly, 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (usually written as 1025 ) which is so large that nobody can really comprehend how big it is. One way to try to conceive the magnitude of the number of atoms in a glass of water is to consider how much space would be taken up by the same number of grains of salt. The usual size of a grain of salt is around 0.0003m and the surface of the Earth is around 510.1 million km 2 which means that if we think that all the grain of salt are cubes, then, these grains of salt would be able to spread all over the surface of the Earth, giving us an idea of how big that number actually is

A single grain of salt is around 0.3 mm
Resultado de imagen de image of the surface of the earth
The surface of the 510.1 million km 2

The next layer in our matryoshka of matter are the three sub-atomic particles that make up atoms .These are the electron, the proton and the neutron. Protons and electrons are electrically charged. You are familiar with electric charge – or at least with the movement of charge. An example of movement of these electrons would be lightning strikes, lighting strikes happen when the charge in a cloud is released to the earth.

Some basic notions to take into account when we speak of atoms are the charges of each one of the different components that make it up, because depending specially on the charge of the electrons these atoms can interact with each other in one way or another.

An interesting fact is that even though the amount of charge on an electron (-) is exactly the same as the one in protons(+), but of the opposite “sign”, the proton is way larger than the electron and is actually situated in what we call the nucleus of the atom. On the other hand electrons behave like a cloud that surrounds the atoms and because they are the ones on the exterior of the atoms they are in charge of most of the interactions between atoms.

The  way in which molecules are built up with chemical (or covalent) bonds joining together the atoms as they share their electrons. These bonds are formed based on giving or taking electrons from another atom. This happens because atoms ”want” to behave a certain number of electrons, because that way they can be as stable as possible. Think of it as having their comfort zone, the atoms can only be in their comfort zone when they have a certain number of electrons and that is how interactions between molecules happen, it is due to atoms interacting with one another so that they can each reach their own comfort zone.


Now that we know what are atoms, the next step is to go back once more to molecules because at the level we work in when we cook we work mostly at the level of molecules and polymers. Polymers are basically a group of molecules bound together, and for example, proteins and many types of sugars are considered as polymers.

Whenever we speak from now on about proteins think of them as a lot of molecules bound together and what we are interested in is how these molecules interact with each other as we cook them.