(2) What does it really “Matter”?

What’s the matter?  Nothing really matters!  Focus on what matters!

We hear the word “matter” all of the time.  But do you really stop to think about what it means?  Everything around matters – the air we breathe, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the road we drive on, the plane we fly on, the medicine we take.  

But, it not only “matters” to us, it IS matter!


SCIENTIFIC DEFINITION: “(noun)  a: the substance of which a physical object is composed
b: material substance that occupies space, has mass, and is composed predominantly of atoms consisting of protons, neutrons, and electrons, that constitutes the observable universe, and that is interconvertible with energy” (from Merriam-Webster.com )

GEOFF’S DEFINITION:  It’s what makes something “real”.  It “matters”.


SCIENTIFIC DEFINITION: “(noun)  the property of a body that is a measure of its inertia and that is commonly taken as a measure of the amount of material it contains and causes it to have weight in a gravitational field (from Merriam-Webster.com )

GEOFF’S DEFINITION:  “How much” does it really “matter” to you?



In a previous blog we learned about the atom and how atoms make up everything in the universe.  Now we are starting to look what that “stuff” is.  We said that there were 118 elements, but these elements normally exist in very different “states”. 

You are certainly familiar with the three most common states of matter:


These are the three most common, but in fact, there are at least five states of matter, and maybe even seven!  (check out this article from Cosmos magazine)

Different elements are often in different states when we find them in nature.

  • Oxygen, Hydrogen, Neon = gasses
  • Gold, Silver, Aluminum = solids
  • Mercury = liquid

What makes a solid hard?  What allows a liquid to fall through our fingers?  What allows a gas to move through the tiniest little holes and cracks?  In earlier blogs we talked about the bonds between atoms to from molecules, but there are also bonds between molecules.  These bonds are not nearly as strong as those within the molecule – but they can be pretty strong, in the case of a solid.

Just as the image to the left shows, in a solid the molecules are packed in very tightly and have a strong bond.  They are less compact and connected in a liquid.  In a gas they really only stay together if they are held in a container.

The strength of the bonds is only part of the answer.  The actual shape of the bonds makes a huge difference.  Consider the carbon molecules in graphite (the soft “lead” in your pencil) and in a diamond (one of the hardest things on Earth).  The extreme hardness (and high boiling point) has to do with how the diamond molecules are shaped.  Check out this cool site to see an interactive graphic of the shape differences.

If it  is  MATTER – then it  has  MASS!

Mass is a measurement of how much matter is in an object – regardless of the shape or volume. 
That’s an important distinction.  Think about a lump of soft clay on a potters wheel.  The amount (mass) of clay doesn’t change as you mold it into different shapes (ignoring the little bits that stick to your fingers).  You can compress it into a ball and it has the same amount of matter (mass) as if you roll it out into a long skinny noodle.  Even if you shape it into a hollow bowl, it will have a lot more volume, but the same amount of matter (and mass)!

Mass is usually measured in kilograms which is abbreviated as “kg”.
As soon as you read that last line about kilograms, if you are like most people, you probably thought to yourself, “Oh, mass must be the same thing as weight”.  Nay, nay!! 

Weight is different from mass. (Weight is covered in depth in another blog post).   Weight is the measure of the force of gravity on an object. Even if the mass of an object never changes, the weight of the object can change based on its location. For example, you may weigh 100 pounds on Earth, but in outer space you would be weightless. However, you would have the same mass on Earth as you have in outer space. 

NASA APPLICATION: How will it help humans get to Mars

Consider the amount of matter (mass) that goes into a rocket launch.  As of 2021, rockets for space travel are being re-engineered to be smaller and lighter, but let’s consider the staggering facts around the Saturn V rocket that was used during the Apollo missions.  According to the NASA website

The Saturn V rocket was 111 meters (363 feet) tall, about the height of a 36-story-tall building, and 18 meters (60 feet) taller than the Statue of Liberty. Fully fueled for liftoff, the Saturn V weighed 2.8 million kilograms (6.2 million pounds), the weight of about 400 elephants. It could launch about 118,000 kilograms (130 tons) of cargo and crew into Earth orbit. That’s about as much weight as 10 school buses. The Saturn V could launch about 43,500 kilograms (50 tons) to the moon. That’s about the same as four school buses.

Why does NASA actually care about the mass of the rocket?  Why do they need to calculate the actual, specific kilograms?  Because MASS is a very important part of the equations for knowing what it will take to get the rocket into space.  This also allows them to make important decisions about what they can and cannot take with them.  If they decide that they need to take 5 extra kilograms of fuel, then they either have to remove 5 kilograms of other stuff, or increase the amount of force needed to lift off.  Astronauts are give a very strict and limited amount of personal items that they can take base on their mass, typically 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds).  There are also some volume limits.  Check out this interesting article from NASA about “Personal Preference Kits (PPKs) . 

Do you think that NASA cares about Force?  Momentum?  Energy?   Well, you can’t figure any of these out without knowing the mass of the items involved.  Each of the following concepts will be covered in later blog posts, but for now, just consider how important these are to space flight – and the role that mass plays in their calculations:

  • Force (lift & thrust):  if the rocket is ever going to leave the launch pad, even for one millimeter, it will take a lot of force.
    • Force = mass  x  acceleration
  • Momentum:  once the rocket starts to move it will pick up some momentum;
    • Momentum = mass x velocity
  • Energy:  obviously it will take a tremendous amount of energy to create force necessary to build momentum.
    • Energy = mass  x  (speed of light)2

    Speaking of velocity and momentum… if you were surprised by the massiveness of the Saturn V rocket, consider how fast it had to get moving to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.  To do that, it had to reach what is called the “escape velocity”.   In general, Earth’s escape velocity is 11.2 km/s, or over 25,000 miles per hour!  At that speed, you could go from the north pole to the south pole in 21 minutes!!   Imagine getting 6.2 million pounds moving at 25,000 mph sounds impossible, but it’s not – it all starts by figuring out the MASS.

LIFE APPLICATION: How does it get YOU to your M.A.R.S.

                     M.A.R.S = My Amazing Real Something   (the “something” varies by person and  changes over time)

I believe that it’s important for me to point out something that maybe obvious to many but to all, the thing that “matters” the most… is YOU!  Yes!  YOU matter.  You matter to me.  I appreciate you giving up your valuable time to read this blog and share your thoughts with me.  You matter to anyone who counts on you as a coworker, a family member or a friend.  Most of all, you matter to God.  So much so that he sent his son to take a punishment you deserved so that you could have eternal life with him.  YOU MATTER!   

I my last blog post I talked about the need to “know yourself” in order to grow yourself.  But regardless of what you discovered about yourself, no matter if it made you feel good or bad, you need to know that you MATTER.  You have value, even now, before you grow.  Growth is just the process of “realizing your value” or “adding to your value”.   In John Maxwell’s book “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth” he calls this the “Law of the Mirror”.  I hope that you truly believe in your own value!  From time to time The McCuen Group offers a multi-week program called a Mastermind that dives into a different book.  This book (Laws of Growth) is one of our favorites.  Please consider joining us for an upcoming Mastermind

In our lives, we are driven by what matters to us.  Whether we know what those things are or not they still control our behavior.  So if we have any hope of moving from the place we are today to our M.A.R.S., then we need to identify our mass – what “matters” to us!
Just as physical matter takes on various forms, the things that matter to us take on several forms.  What’s interesting is that in one sense, the things that matter in our lives have a direct relationship with the three most common physical states:

  • Solids – most tangible, things we possess
    • Home
    • Car
    • Toys
  • Liquids – less tangible, more fluid, can change over time
    • Family (though marriage/divorce, birth/death)
    • Friends (from high school to college to coworkers)
    • Career (from job to job – industry to industry)
  • Gasses – least tangible, psychological, internal, permeate all areas of your life
    • Faith
    • Integrity
    • Honor

However, in another sense, you’ll see an inverse relationship between how we relate to what matters in our lives and the states of matter.  We are least attached to our tangible possessions and we are most attached to our intangibles.

Which one of these “matters” the most to you?   What other things would you put on this list?
Knowing which things matter to you is just the starting point.  

Next you need to assess how “massive” is the stuff that matters to you?   What is its mass?

Remember that mass isn’t connected to shape, size or volume at all.  Consider a balloon that always has the same mass, but it’s volume changes greatly as you fill it with air.   In your own life there are things that sometimes take up more space or time, but they have not gained any mass – they don’t “matter” more to you now than before, they simply need more attention.  Consider children.  Presumably, your children matter the same to you all of the time.  But, when one of them needs help on a school project, you will give them more of your time.  They don’t “matter” more, but they now take up more space/time in your day.

You might say that your work takes up more of your waking hours than any other type of “matter” in your life (it has a large volume), but it may not have as much mass as your family or your faith do. 

If you are not sure how to indentify the “matter” in your life take a look at your CALENDAR and your CHECK BOOK.   Where you spend your time and your money will certainly give you a good start.  Once you know what the “matter” is, then you can start to figure out it’s “mass”.

Getting you to your M.A.R.S. may require one or both of these exercises:

1.  Increase your thrust (how much mass you can push into space)

2.  Decrease your load (reduce the mass you are trying to push into space)

Future blog posts will try to help you the first option since we don’t usually want to get rid of things that matter to us.   But as you look over your list you may discover some items that you realize aren’t worth the effort to get them into space.  Things that just weigh you down and won’t be that valuable later.    Just like astronauts, you can’t take unlimited items with you on this journey.


I would like to close with this challenge.  

Take some time this week (right now might be a good time), to make a list of the things that “matter” in your life.  Start with the big stuff, but keep going until you can’t think of any more.  5-7 is a good start.  10-12 maybe the limit for some.  20 or more may be hard to do the next step.

Then, for each item on the list, assign it a “mass”.  Obviously, this a purely arbitrary number, but it’s more than just a ranking.  Start comparing the items on the list and ask yourself, “If I could only spend my last breath doing one of these, which would it be?”, or “If I had to spend my last dollar on one of these which would it be?” 

If you are stumped, consider asking a spouse or close friend what they think “matters” most to you.   (You may learn a lot about yourself from doing this!)

When you are done, it’s possible that you look at the list and realize, “No wonder I’m always exhausted!  I’m constantly trying to lift off the launching pad with all of this mass on my shoulders.”    

Recommended sites

  • You can learn more about the three most recognizable forms of matter from the Purdue University  Chemistry department here
  • Let’s Talk Science” website
  • Big thanks to “Ducksters” for teaching me some of the material.

1 thought on “(2) What does it really “Matter”?”

  1. I like the closing challenges you have on each of these posts. There is a lot more that you could do with these. Maybe in future posts you could revisit some of these and encourage us to expand on what we started.

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