Chemical Curiosities: Accuracy Happy Hours

phase transition, state of matter, Eyewire, citizen science, Eyewire's Chemical Curiosities, chemistry

How many states of matter are there? That’s an easy answer: solid, liquid, gas. Well, one more thing: plasma. Wait, actually matter can also exist in intermediary states between all these things! And then there are special structural distinctions within each state, for specific phases! Chemistry feels so complicated already!

It definitely is complex, but chemistry largely involves studying the way that matter changes under given conditions — and although there are various ways that matter can change, a surprising number of those changes come down to what state/phase that matter currently occupies, and how it can be pushed to occupy a different one. Using the simplest model (we promise), you might be familiar with some of these concepts, which are technically called phase transitions:

  • Melting – Solid becoming liquid, like ice becoming water, or like dripping candle wax
  • Sublimation – Solid becoming gas, without becoming liquid in between, like how dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) behaves
  • Freezing – Liquid becoming solid, the opposite of melting
  • Vaporization – Liquid becoming gas, like a puddle drying up on a hot day
  • Deposition – Gas becoming solid, the opposite of sublimation, seen for instance in how hot gas from a fire will cool fast enough where it lands to become solid soot
  • Condensation – Gas becoming liquid, like how clouds are formed
  • Ionization – Gas becoming plasma, like when a fluorescent light fixture is turned on
  • Recombination – Plasma becoming gas, the opposite of ionization

As you might guess from the examples of melting and freezing (things you can sense with the palm of your hand) or vaporization and condensation (things you see happen with the water cycle all the time), temperature has a big role to play in whether a phase transition winds up occurring. However, apart from very extreme examples, there are few temperatures guaranteed to melt, freeze, vaporize, condense, or do anything else to all objects in the universe. Any distinct element, compound, substance, etc., has its own temperature thresholds for having certain phase transitions. You can tell this just be examining objects at room temperature. Room temperature water is, well, water — it won’t freeze solid before reaching 0º Celsius — but a piece of metal is already solid. Its “freezing point” may be hundreds of degrees hotter than 0ºC, so going about your normal life you don’t think of metal as being like ice; you’re more likely to think of a metal’s threshold for becoming solid vs. liquid as its “melting point.” But of course, some metals are special. Pure mercury is liquid at room temperature; its freezing point is −38.83 °C. It also has a much lower boiling (vaporization) point than most metals, at 356.73 °C, meaning you can turn mercury into a gas at a temperature where something like iron is still very solid.

Temperature also isn’t the only thing that can affect phase transition. Melting points, boiling points, etc., are calculated with the assumption that you have the same atmospheric pressure as found on Earth at sea level. If you’re at a different altitude, on a different planet, not on a planet at all, or under conditions where extra pressure may be applied from other sources (think about your kitchen’s pressure cooker if you’ve got one), this will alter whether matter needs more or less degrees of temperature change for passing from one phase to another. Also, the volume of a substance will also affect whether it can enter a different phase, as if you increase or decrease it this may change how pressure acts upon it or provide more resilience to temperature alterations.

Last of all for a basic phase transition lesson, usually you’re not going to see ionization or recombination taking place without some kind of electromagnetic activity. Plasma is the most abundant form of matter in the universe, since that’s what stars are made of, but you won’t just create it by heating a gas up really high. You might cause that gas to combust and be seen as visible fire, but no matter how hot fire can get, it’s nowhere near the heat of plasma. The best natural way to glimpse plasma without going into outer space is to look at a flash of lightning: as that gigantic buildup of electricity is discharged between cloud and ground, the air in between is superheated to the point that very, very briefly, you see plasma.

So now you can see how what state or phase of matter something’s in depends on various factors that all can require fine tuning to change in the way you’d like. In the spirit of needing to get things just right, it’s time for some Accuracy Happy Hours on Eyewire! All times EST:

Session 1 – 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM on 2/16
Session 2 – 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM on 2/17
Session 3 – 10:00 PM to midnight on 2/17

HQ will bestow typical Happy Hour bonuses for your work during each of those time frames, but there’s more than that to earn! Check your in-game notifications to see the full accuracy bonus breakdown.

Swag: Most accurate player completing at least 30 cubes wins the choice of a notebook or a mug, plus a sticker/magnet set! Second and third place will each also win a sticker/magnet set.

Mentors: You are still allowed to mentor people during these time windows. Please just use your best judgment as to whether someone is asking you for basic newbie help vs. trying to have you boost their accuracy on cube after cube.

Scythes: Please avoid scything during these time windows. Even though accuracy for this will be retroactively calculated, we would prefer to go with accuracy based on players’ raw tracing. By the time this challenge is scored, don’t worry, admins will have corrected consensus as needed.