Lesson 1: Invisible Matter

Getting Started

Philosophers, not scientists, first thought of the idea of the atom. Prior to the discoveries of modern science, these philosophers and academics believed that matter was made up of invisible components that were uncuttable, or indivisible — they could not be divided further. In fact, the word "atom" comes from the Greek atomos, meaning "indivisible." One of the first to investigate this concept was Democritus, often considered the father of modern science. He is given credit for the idea of the atom.

Elements are substances that cannot be broken down into simpler substances. For example, if you have a block of pure gold, and you cut it into smaller and smaller pieces, it will always remain gold. The smallest bit that an element can be broken into is called an atom.

Atoms are important because of their structure. A structure is an organization made up of related parts functioning as a whole. Structures can be part of a system, a combination of related parts. The way that an object or living thing is shaped determines many of its properties — its characteristic qualities or distinctive features — and its functions — the actions or uses for which it is designed. The functioning of any object, natural or made by hand, depends on the shapes and relationships of certain key parts as well as the materials from which it is made.

In the case of matter — a substance or material of a particular kind that has mass, occupies space, and is convertible to energy — its various functions are based on its structure. Depending on the type of matter that is present, different functions are possible. To understand matter, we must explore one of the most basic units of matter, the atom. Matter exists in different forms and, in some of its simplest states, is not easy to see. Although some matter may be invisible to the naked eye, its behavior can often be observed.
In today's lesson, you will look at the behavior of matter in a specific situation, which will help you begin to understand how matter functions in other situations as well.

Stuff You Need

  • Eyewitness Chemistry by Ann Newmark
  • 250-ml beaker (kit)
  • dynamometer (kit)
  • funnel (kit)* (Activity 1 - optional)
  • pan
  • plastic milk jug
  • pot holder or oven mitt
  • safety goggles (kit)
  • scissors
  • watch or timer

* - denotes an optional material that may or may not be needed

Ideas to Think About

  • How do we know that all matter is made of smaller, "invisible" parts?

Things to Know

  • indivisible: not capable of being separated into parts
  • atom: the smallest portion into which an element can be divided and still retain its properties
  • element: a substance that cannot be broken down into a simpler one
  • structure: a system or organization made up of related parts functioning as a whole
  • function: an action or use for which something is designed
  • property: a characteristic, quality, or distinctive feature of something
  • system: a combination of related parts organized into a whole
  • matter: a substance or material of a particular kind that has mass, occupies space, and is convertible to energy


  • Recognize that all matter is made up of atoms. (S)
  • Know that atoms of the same element are all alike but are different from the atoms of other elements. (S)

Introducing the Lesson

In this lesson, your child will be introduced to the concept of invisible matter. This lesson will help your child understand how different types of matter influence the structure and function of different things. He will complete a hands-on activity that will lead to some challenging generalizations. The important part of the activity is having him build a point of reference for future reading and activities within this unit. This lesson is challenging in some regards, yet as the unit unfolds, your child will continue to better develop his understanding of the topic. Conceptually, he will be challenged to understand that various differences influence how matter behaves. By developing a basic understanding of matter your child will begin to understand why different types of matter function in different ways.

NOTE: The book used for this unit, Eyewitness Chemistry by Ann Newmark, will also be used in the next science unit this semester, "Chemical Reactions." This unit will use only a small portion of the book. Some readings will contain one or more pages of optional reading. Encourage your child to do the extra reading if he has time — the optional pages often go into more depth or cover a related topic. The optional pages are not covered in the questions.
Reading and Questions
Materials: Eyewitness Chemistry by Ann Newmark
Read pages 16 and 18 of Eyewitness Chemistry by Ann Newmark. (Optionally, also read p. 19.) Answer the following questions.
  1. What was John Dalton's atomic theory?
    An element's atoms were all identical but were different from the atoms of other elements.
  2. What was the problem with Dalton's atomic model?
    He thought that atoms were completely solid, so he represented atoms using wooden balls.
  3. What is an element?
    A substance that has only one kind of atom.
  4. What two elements are most commonly found in the Earth's crust?
    Oxygen and silicon.