2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: General Physics

A gas is one of the four major phases of matter (after solid and liquid, and followed by plasma, that subsequently appear as a solid material is subjected to increasingly higher temperatures. 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.


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 speed. The range in speed 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 measures the average force exerted by the molecules colliding against a surface. These variables are related by the fundamental gas laws, which state that the pressure in an ideal 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 can 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.

Some types of gases

  • Ideal gas, in physics
  • Various hydrocarbon gases used for heating, lighting, and energy transmission:
    • Natural gas
    • Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), including propane and butane
    • Syngas: various synthetic fuel gases: names include coal gas, water gas, illuminating gas, wood gas, producer gas, holzgas, air gas, blue gas, manufactured gas, town gas, hygas
  • Gas (chemical warfare), various poison gases used in warfare
  • Inhalational anaesthetic, including laughing gas (= nitrous oxide)
  • Trace gas
  • Toxic gases
  • Noble gases


The word "gas" was apparently proposed by the 17th century chemist Jan Baptist van Helmont, as a phonetic spelling of his Dutch pronunciation of the Greek word " chaos".

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