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Physical Properties of Matter

Discusses characteristics used to describe matter and what they mean.

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Physical Properties of Matter

Both of these people are participating in a board sport, but the man on the left is snowboarding in Norway while the woman on the right is sandboarding in Dubai. Snow and sand are both kinds of matter, but they have different properties. What are some ways snow and sand differ? One difference is the temperature at which they melt. Snow melts at 0°C, whereas sand melts at about 1600°C! The temperature at which something melts is its melting point. Melting point is just one of many physical properties of matter.

What Are Physical Properties?

Physical properties of matter are properties that can be measured or observed without matter changing to an entirely different substance. Physical properties are typically things you can detect with your senses. For example, they may be things that you can see, hear, smell, or feel.

Q: What differences between snow and sand can you detect with your senses?

A: You can see that snow and sand have a different color. You can also feel that snow is softer than sand. Both color and hardness are physical properties of matter.

Additional Physical Properties

In addition to these properties, other physical properties of matter include the state of matter. States of matter include liquid, solid, and gaseous states. For example at 20°C, coal exists as a solid and water exists as a liquid. Additional examples of physical properties include:

  • odor
  • boiling point
  • ability to conduct heat
  • ability to conduct electricity
  • ability to dissolve in other substances

Some of these properties are illustrated in the Figures below.  The video at this URL below compares physical properties such as these for different classes of matter:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7wy8ycpE48 (5:41)

Odor of water

Antifreeze raises the boiling point of coolant

Plastic and aluminum in a kettle conduct heat differently

Copper wires can conduct electricity well

Q: The coolant that is added to a car radiator also has a lower freezing point than water. Why is this physical property useful?

A: When coolant is added to water in a car radiator, it lowers the freezing point of the water. This prevents the water in the radiator from freezing when the temperature drops below 0°C, which is the freezing point of pure water.

Q: Besides being able to conduct electricity, what other physical property of copper makes it well suited for electric wires?

A: Copper, like other metals, is ductile. This means that it can be rolled and stretched into long thin shapes such as wires.


License: CC BY-NC 3.0


  • physical property: property of matter that can be measured or observed without matter changing to an entirely different substance.


Water is one of the most important substances on Earth, and it has some unique physical properties. Read in detail about the density of water and one other physical property of water at the URL below. Then make a poster or video demonstrating this property of water.



  1. What is a physical property of matter?
  2. List three examples of physical properties.
  3. Compare and contrast two physical properties of apples and oranges.

Missouri Standards

  • 1.1.A.d: Classify the types of matter in an object into pure substances or mixtures using their specific physical properties
  • 1.1.B.a: Describe the properties of each component in a mixture/solution and their distinguishing properties (e.g., salt water, oil and vinegar, pond water, Kool-Aid)
  • 1.1.D.a: Describe the relationship between the change in the volume of water and changes in temperature as it relates to the properties of water (i.e., water expands and becomes less dense when frozen) 

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