A physical property is any property that is measurable, whose value describes a state of a physical system. The changes in the physical properties of a system can be used to describe its changes between momentary states. Physical properties are often referred to as observables. They are not modal properties. A quantifiable physical property is called physical quantity.
Physical properties are often characterized as intensive and extensive properties. An intensive property does not depend on the size or extent of the system, nor on the amount of matter in the object, while an extensive property shows an additive relationship. These classifications are in general only valid in cases when smaller subdivisions of the sample do not interact in some physical or chemical process when combined.
Properties may also be classified with respect to the directionality of their nature. For example, isotropic properties do not change with the direction of observation, and anisotropic properties do have spatial variance.
It may be difficult to determine whether a given property is a material property or not. Color, for example, can be seen and measured; however, what one perceives as color is really an interpretation of the reflective properties of a surface and the light used to illuminate it. In this sense, many ostensibly physical properties are called supervenient. A supervenient property is one which is actual, but is secondary to some underlying reality. This is similar to the way in which objects are supervenient on atomic structure. A cup might have the physical properties of mass, shape, color, temperature, etc., but these properties are supervenient on the underlying atomic structure, which may in turn be supervenient on an underlying quantum structure.
List of properties
The physical properties of an object that are traditionally defined by classical mechanics are often called mechanical properties. Other broad categories, commonly cited, are electrical properties, optical properties, thermal properties, etc. Examples of physical properties include:
- absorption (physical)
- absorption (electromagnetic)
- angular momentum
- boiling point
- electric charge
- electrical conductivity
- electrical impedance
- electric field
- electric potential
- flow rate (mass)
- flow rate (volume)
- heat capacity
- intrinsic impedance
- magnetic field
- magnetic flux
- melting point
- refractive index
- specific heat
- thermal conductivity (and resistance)
- wave impedance
The characteristics that enable us to distinguish one substance from another are called properties. A physical property is a characteristic of matter that is not associated with a change in its chemical composition. Familiar examples of physical properties include density, color, hardness, melting and boiling points, and electrical conductivity. We can observe some physical properties, such as density and color, without changing the physical state of the matter observed. Other physical properties, such as the melting temperature of iron or the freezing temperature of water, can only be observed as matter undergoes a physical change. A physical change is a change in the state or properties of matter without any accompanying change in its chemical composition (the identities of the substances contained in the matter). We observe a physical change when wax melts, when sugar dissolves in coffee, and when steam condenses into liquid water (Figure 1). Other examples of physical changes include magnetizing and demagnetizing metals (as is done with common antitheft security tags) and grinding solids into powders (which can sometimes yield noticeable changes in color). In each of these examples, there is a change in the physical state, form, or properties of the substance, but no change in its chemical composition.
The change of one type of matter into another type (or the inability to change) is a chemical property. Examples of chemical properties include flammability, toxicity, acidity, reactivity (many types), and heat of combustion. Iron, for example, combines with oxygen in the presence of water to form rust; chromium does not oxidize (Figure 2). Nitroglycerin is very dangerous because it explodes easily; neon poses almost no hazard because it is very unreactive.
To identify a chemical property, we look for a chemical change. A chemical change always produces one or more types of matter that differ from the matter sspresent before the change. The formation of rust is a chemical change because rust is a different kind of matter than the iron, oxygen, and water present before the rust formed. The explosion of nitroglycerin is a chemical change because the gases produced are very different kinds of matter from the original substance. Other examples of chemical changes include reactions that are performed in a lab (such as copper reacting with nitric acid), all forms of combustion (burning), and food being cooked, digested, or rotting (Figure 3).
Properties of matter fall into one of two categories. If the property depends on the amount of matter present, it is an extensive property. The mass and volume of a substance are examples of extensive properties; for instance, a gallon of milk has a larger mass and volume than a cup of milk. The value of an extensive property is directly proportional to the amount of matter in question. If the property of a sample of matter does not depend on the amount of matter present, it is an intensive property. Temperature is an example of an intensive property. If the gallon and cup of milk are each at 20 °C (room temperature), when they are combined, the temperature remains at 20 °C. As another example, consider the distinct but related properties of heat and temperature. A drop of hot cooking oil spattered on your arm causes brief, minor discomfort, whereas a pot of hot oil yields severe burns. Both the drop and the pot of oil are at the same temperature (an intensive property), but the pot clearly contains much more heat (extensive property).
You may have seen the symbol shown in Figure 4 on containers of chemicals in a laboratory or workplace. Sometimes called a “fire diamond” or “hazard diamond,” this chemical hazard diamond provides valuable information that briefly summarizes the various dangers of which to be aware when working with a particular substance.
The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) 704 Hazard Identification System was developed by NFPA to provide safety information about certain substances. The system details flammability, reactivity, health, and other hazards. Within the overall diamond symbol, the top (red) diamond specifies the level of fire hazard (temperature range for flash point). The blue (left) diamond indicates the level of health hazard. The yellow (right) diamond describes reactivity hazards, such as how readily the substance will undergo detonation or a violent chemical change. The white (bottom) diamond points out special hazards, such as if it is an oxidizer (which allows the substance to burn in the absence of air/oxygen), undergoes an unusual or dangerous reaction with water, is corrosive, acidic, alkaline, a biological hazard, radioactive, and so on. Each hazard is rated on a scale from 0 to 4, with 0 being no hazard and 4 being extremely hazardous.
While many elements differ dramatically in their chemical and physical properties, some elements have similar properties. We can identify sets of elements that exhibit common behaviors. For example, many elements conduct heat and electricity well, whereas others are poor conductors. These properties can be used to sort the elements into three classes: metals (elements that conduct well), nonmetals (elements that conduct poorly), and metalloids (elements that have properties of both metals and nonmetals).
The periodic table is a table of elements that places elements with similar properties close together (Figure 4). You will learn more about the periodic table as you continue your study of chemistry.
Key Concepts and Summary
All substances have distinct physical and chemical properties, and may undergo physical or chemical changes. Physical properties, such as hardness and boiling point, and physical changes, such as melting or freezing, do not involve a change in the composition of matter. Chemical properties, such flammability and acidity, and chemical changes, such as rusting, involve production of matter that differs from that present beforehand.
Measurable properties fall into one of two categories. Extensive properties depend on the amount of matter present, for example, the mass of gold. Intensive properties do not depend on the amount of matter present, for example, the density of gold. Heat is an example of an extensive property, and temperature is an example of an intensive property.
Chemistry End of Chapter Exercises
- Classify the six underlined properties in the following paragraph as chemical or physical:Fluorine is a pale yellow gas that reacts with most substances. The free element melts at −220 °C and boils at −188 °C. Finely divided metals burn in fluorine with a bright flame. Nineteen grams of fluorine will react with 1.0 gram of hydrogen.
- Classify each of the following changes as physical or chemical:(a) condensation of steam(b) burning of gasoline(c) souring of milk(d) dissolving of sugar in water(e) melting of gold
- Classify each of the following changes as physical or chemical:(a) coal burning(b) ice melting(c) mixing chocolate syrup with milk(d) explosion of a firecracker(e) magnetizing of a screwdriver
- The volume of a sample of oxygen gas changed from 10 mL to 11 mL as the temperature changed. Is this a chemical or physical change?
- A 2.0-liter volume of hydrogen gas combined with 1.0 liter of oxygen gas to produce 2.0 liters of water vapor. Does oxygen undergo a chemical or physical change?
- Explain the difference between extensive properties and intensive properties.
- Identify the following properties as either extensive or intensive.(a) volume(b) temperature(c) humidity(d) heat(e) boiling point
- The density (d) of a substance is an intensive property that is defined as the ratio of its mass (m) to its volume (V).density=massvolumedensity=massvolume d=mVd=mVConsidering that mass and volume are both extensive properties, explain why their ratio, density, is intensive.
chemical changechange producing a different kind of matter from the original kind of matterchemical propertybehavior that is related to the change of one kind of matter into another kind of matterextensive propertyproperty of a substance that depends on the amount of the substanceintensive propertyproperty of a substance that is independent of the amount of the substancephysical changechange in the state or properties of matter that does not involve a change in its chemical compositionphysical propertycharacteristic of matter that is not associated with any change in its chemical composition
Answers for Chemistry End of Chapter Exercises
2. (a) physical; (b) chemical; (c) chemical; (d) physical; (e) physical
6. The value of an extensive property depends upon the amount of matter being considered, whereas the value of an intensive property is the same regardless of the amount of matter being considered.
8. Being extensive properties, both mass and volume are directly proportional to the amount of substance under study. Dividing one extensive property by another will in effect “cancel” this dependence on amount, yielding a ratio that is independent of amount (an intensive property).
- Cesare Emiliani (1987). Dictionary of the Physical Sciences: Terms, Formulas, Data. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-503651-0.
- Robert A. Meyers (2001). Encyclopedia of Physical Science and Technology (3rd ed.).