1.4: Classifying Matter by Composition
Matter: Pure Substances and Mixtures
According to its composition, the matter can be classified into two broad categories — pure substances and mixtures.
A pure substance is a form of matter that has a constant composition throughout with uniform properties. For example, any sample of sucrose has the same composition and same physical properties, such as melting point, color, and sweetness, regardless of the source from which it is isolated.
A mixture is composed of two or more types of matter that can be present in varying amounts and can be separated by physical changes, such as evaporation. The components in a mixture retain their distinct identities.
Pure Substances: Elements and Compounds
Pure substances may be divided into two classes: elements and compounds. Pure substances that cannot be broken down into simpler substances by chemical changes are called elements. Iron, silver, gold, aluminum, sulfur, oxygen, and copper are elements.
Pure substances that can be broken down by chemical changes are called compounds. This breakdown may produce either elements or other compounds, or both. Mercury(II) oxide, an orange, crystalline solid, can be broken down by heat into the elements mercury and oxygen. When heated in the absence of air, the compound sucrose is broken down into the element carbon and the compound water. Silver(I) chloride is a white solid that can be broken down into its elements, silver and chlorine, by absorption of light.
The properties of combined elements are different from those in the free or uncombined state. For example, white crystalline sugar (sucrose) is a compound resulting from the chemical combination of the element carbon, which is a black solid in one of its uncombined forms, and the two elements hydrogen and oxygen, which are colorless gases when uncombined. Free sodium, an element that is a soft, shiny, metallic solid, and free chlorine, an element that is a yellow-green gas, combine to form sodium chloride (table salt), a compound that is a white, crystalline solid.
Mixtures: Homogeneous and Heterogeneous
A homogeneous mixture, also called a solution, exhibits a uniform composition and appears visually the same throughout. An example of a solution is a sports drink, consisting of water, sugar, coloring, flavoring, and electrolytes mixed together uniformly. Each drop of a sports drink tastes the same because each drop contains the same amounts of water, sugar, and other components. Note that the composition of a sports drink can vary — it could be made with somewhat more or less sugar, flavoring, or other components, and still be a sports drink. Other examples of homogeneous mixtures include air, maple syrup, gasoline, and a solution of salt in water.
A mixture with a composition that varies from point to point is called a heterogeneous mixture. Italian dressing is an example of a heterogeneous mixture. Its composition can vary because it may be prepared from varying amounts of oil, vinegar, and herbs. It is not the same from point to point throughout the mixture—one drop may be mostly vinegar, whereas a different drop may be mostly oil or herbs because the oil and vinegar separate and the herbs settle. Other examples of heterogeneous mixtures are chocolate chip cookies (we can see the separate bits of chocolate, nuts, and cookie dough) and granite (we can see the quartz, mica, feldspar, and more).
Any mixture, whether homogeneous or heterogeneous, can be separated into pure components by physical means without changing the identities of the components. Although there are just over 100 elements, tens of millions of chemical compounds result from different combinations of these elements. Each compound has a specific composition and possesses definite chemical and physical properties that distinguish it from all other compounds. And, of course, there are innumerable ways to combine elements and compounds to form different mixtures.
This text is adapted from Openstax, Chemistry 2e, Section 1.2: Phases and Classification of Matter.