Democritus and Leucippus

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Matter is made up of indivisible building blocks. In the 15th century BCE, Democritus and Leucippus recorded this materialism doctrine. The Greeks referred to the particles as atomos, which means indivisible. This is where the term ""atom"" comes from. Combinations and diverse types of particles, according to Democritus, were responsible for the creation of various forms of substance (Rutherford, Gerald and Fletcher 2). Unfortunately, the majority of philosophers who were thoroughly rooted in Aristotle's perspective strongly disputed the views at the time.

The emergence of the law

According Holton and Brush (203), before the revelation of the mass conservation law, so that it could be meaningful in the current scientific forms, there were three developments, which occurred. The first was the concept of the ideally isolated system. Greeks and the scholastics had the unified vision of a universe that is integrated. As such, the determination of the single body behavior relied on its relation to the cosmos where there was an essential role to be played in the entire drama. Hence, it was meaningless to develop the perception and opinion that for isolated events, the existing physical laws in a region could help in interpreting the influence of the different events that occurred in a given region as well as the simultaneous ones where there is reliability of the surrounding universe.

The works of Galileo led to the emergence of the concept of isolated system. This occurred during Galileo's formulation of the law of inertia, which exists as the first motion law of Newton that makes people develop thoughts of uniformity, continuity, and accelerated motion in a straight horizontal plane where there are no external forces. Thus, people are invited to map out the regions, which contain the body in an equilibrium manner and where the boundaries have causal connections with outside phenomena, which is broken.

Considering that the concept of closed or isolated system was in existence, which indicate the definition of the attention regions, there is a need to have an extension of the criterion, which is essential in measuring the quantity of matter prior to the formulation of the law. This was the foundation of the definition of the quantity of matter by these scholars. The other contribution was the indication that the quantity of matter present in a system, which is the weight of a material, does not change during any chemical transformations (Holton and Brush 204).

Defining Conservation law

Conservation laws relate to a given set of principles, which are used in describing the physical properties, which are always constant in the different processes, which are experienced in the physical world. The significant conservation laws are that of energy, electrical charge, angular momentum, and linear momentum (Rutherford, Gerald and Fletcher 3). Physical principle of mass conservation indicates that mass always remains constant and it is not influenced by issues, which include asposition, temperature, or velocity. The principles of mass conservation are applicable in cases where the speeds are below that of light. Such is because when the light speed is reached, the mass tends to convert into energy.

Conserving indicates that there is no net loss of something, which is particular to a given component. There is a possibility that a system may have a change in position or form, but provided that the net value remains constant, the component is conserved. The conservation occurs in systems (Holton and Brush 203). The system indicates the physical interactions, which are not combined to the others in the universe. Other things, which are not present in the system that includes forces and factors are not essential for discussion of the system within its environment.

Atom Concept

The atom concept was then elaborated after revisiting by several philosophers and scientists that include Boyle, Newton, Galileo, and Lavoisier. Boyle, in 1661, provided a presentation that focused on the atoms discussion in "The Sceptical Chymist." Nevertheless, the English meteorologist and chemist, John Dalton, is the one who is known for the current atomic theory.

Dalton engaged in conducting several experiments with gases, which aided in the attainment of earlier atomic masses measurements and the development of the concept of reactivity and atomic structure. The atomic theory of Dalton consisted of the idea that; each element has identical atoms. However, the atoms of various elements differ in size and mass. Further, the atoms are considered to be indestructible. He also indicated that there is a possibility to have chemical reactions developing in the rearrangement of the atoms, but not having destruction or creation.

Mass refers to the measurement of the quantity of matter, which is present in something. As such, the mass of an object remains constant while on the moon and on Earth. The only difference in the mass can be realized when an objective is travelling the light speed. However, there is a difference between weight and mass. Weight focuses on measuring the gravitation pull for an object. Thus, objects weigh less while in the moon as compared to when on earth. The commonly known states of matter are gases, liquids, and solids. There is a fourth state, which plasma that is found in stars (Winterberg 4). The substance has similarity to the gas but it can carry electricity and exhibits high temperatures. While on earth, it is impossible to detect plasma. In the universe, plasma comprises of 99% of the visible matter.

Matter can neither be destroyed or created (Winterberg 7). This acts as the conservation law. However, the implication is not that matter does not change its form, it undergoes a change of physical and chemical state. In spite of the number of atoms present in the matter, it will always have the same composition. The theory of Einstein reveals that there is a correlation between energy and mass in special relativity. Thus, energy has the potential of changing to matter while matter also changes to energy. Therefore, when mass may appear like it has not been conserved, what happens is that it changes its form.

The quantity, which is said not change during a chemical or physical process is considered to be conserved (Rutherford, Gerald and Fletcher 4). For example, the blocks of children are conserved and not changed. However, these could be scattered in the yard, house, car, property of the neighbor, or schoolroom but the blocks number will not change. Thus, conservation of block depicts the conditions, which change, but do not result in the alteration of the block numbers.

Cursory observations indicate that maters comes and goes in arbitrary or unpredictable way. As such, the wood burns and it is destroyed and only leaves a small ash pile behind; trees tend to grow from nothing, and water disappears in the open place during warm days. Careful measurements indicate that mass change is impossible in any of these transformations. What happens is that the form changes. As an example, burning of the wood in the box that is closed results in having similar contents for the box, which do not change. Oxygen and wood that are present change because of water vapor, carbon dioxide, and ash.

The conservation of mass occurs in a system or different parts working together. Different types of systems exists, which could be as large as the universe or as small as the cell. For example, a cell phone acts as a system, the forest is a system, and the tank of fish is a system. Therefore, the study of the conservation of the mass in a system has to focus on the definition of the different parts for the system (Winterberg 13). Furthermore, it is impossible to study the system while the environment is not given a consideration. Thus, understanding the conservation of mass involves the isolation of the system. In isolating the system, the aim is to consider such a system away from its immediate environment. Hence, there is nothing that leaves the system when it is isolated.

"The Law of Conservation of Mass" in classical physics, it is a fundamental principle that holds that it is impossible to destroy or create matter in a system that is isolated. Ancient Greeks coined the idea that the matter that exists in the universe is constant. Antoine Lavoisier described the law of matter conservation, or principle of mass, or conservation of mass as a fundamental physics principle in 1789 (Elkana 3). The law holds that in spite of the physical transformations or chemical reactions, there is conservation of mass, which can neither be destroyed nor created within the isolated system. Thus, in a given chemical reaction, the products mass will be equal to the reactants mass at all times.

Einstein and the conservation law

Einstein, later amended this law to conservation of mass-energy where the argument is that the total energy and mass in a system does not change, but remains constant at all times (Rutherford, Gerald and Fletcher 5). The amendment appreciates the concept that it is possible to transform and convert mass and energy from one form to another.

The discovery of the law of mass conservation has assisted in making Chemistry a science that is currently respected (Elkana 4). Such is because this law assists in the production and study of the different chemical reactions. Therefore, when scientists understand the identities and quantities of the reactants present in a given reaction, they have a chance to be able to predict the possible amounts to be achieved in the products. Further, the mass conservation concept finds application in other fields, which include fluid dynamics and mechanics.

At the start of the 20th Century, there was a radical revision on the notion of mass (Nuclear Power 1). As such, absoluteness of the mass was lost as it was the case of Einstein's relativity theory where energy and mass are convertible and equivalent. The equivalence of energy and mass is described by the famous formula of Einstein E = mc2 (Nuclear Power 1). Thus, energy is equal to the mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light. Since the light speed is a big number, the implication of the formula is that only a small matter that has a large energy amount. The object mass is equal to the energy and increases at the speeds of the light.

Special relativity theory

In special relativity theory, there are types of matter that can be destroyed or created (Nuclear Power 1). However, in all of these, the associated energy and matter remains unchanged in terms of quantity. In the nuclear fusion or nuclear splitting, there is conversion of some of the nucleus to big energy amounts resulting into the removal of mass from the original particles. The binding energies of the nucleus are large and in the order of million times greater as compared to the atoms electron binding energies. Hence, in both nuclear and chemical reactions, there is conversion of rest energy and mass where the products tend to have smaller or greater mass as compared to the reactants (See figure 1). This leads to the attainment of the new principle of the mass-energy conservation.

Figure 1: Mass defect uranium

In fluid dynamics, there is conservation of matter. As such, the mass of an object or objects does not change over time irrespective of the nature of the rearrangement of the constituents parts (Nuclear Power 1). Such generates the conservation of matter principle, which helps in the flowing fluids analysis. Therefore, in fluid dynamics, the conservation of mass claims that the mass flow rates to the control volume are equivalent to the mass of the flow rates from the outside of the control volume plus mass changes experienced in the control volume as expressed in the mathematical equation below.

ṁin = ṁout +∆m⁄∆t

The mass, which is entering at unit time = leaving mass + mass change per unit time of the control volume. The expression provides the continuity equation, which is widely used in the field of fluid dynamics.

The above equation depicts the nonsteady-state flow where the properties of fluid in any single point of the entire system tend to change with time. In contrast, steady-state flow relates to the situation where the properties of fluid (velocity, pressure, and temperature) do not change with time (Nuclear Power 1). In the steady-state flow, mass accumulation does not occur in the system component. The mathematical expression of steady-state flow is:

ṁin = ṁout

The mass that enters the control volume is always equal to the mass that leaves per unit time.

The manifestation of energy occurs in different ways, which include nuclear, chemical, sound, electromagnetic, and thermal. These are reflections of the energy types, which are potential, rest, and kinetic energy that are possessed in the virtual mass (Elkana 6). Every system has its kinetic and potential energy quantities known as mechanical energy. Such energy does not change in the system, but the relative values of kinetic and potential energy are altered.

Support of conservation law

When a person holds the baseball on the rooftop of a building, the ball possess potential energy. When a drop of the ball occurs, it results in gaining kinetic energy and losing potential energy in proportions that are lost (Rutherford, Gerald and Fletcher 7). These two energy forms have relationships that are inverse because as the value tends towards the decline, the other part of the proportion is always in increment. The conservation of energy occurs as illustrated in figure 2 below:

Figure 2: Conservation of mass process

For example, the ball will not have to fall continuously, it will gain kinetic, but lose potential. Actually, it is impossible of the ball to have kinetic energy, which is more than the potential energy possessed during the first place. Before the ball hits the ground, it has the potential energy, which is equivalent to the kinetic energy possessed while on the building top. The outcome or sum of this energy is zero (Elkana 8). When the ball hits the earth surface it has its energy dispersed. Majority of it goes to the ground depending on the nature of the earth surface and ball rigidity, which may result in creating a bounce of the ball. Some of the energy will appear as heat while the other one will be in the sound form. Hence, the entire amount of energy cannot be lost, but will have its form changed. In all these cases, there is conservation of mass and energy since the energy does not change. What happens is that the energy is transformed from one form to another.

The conservation of mass law is also supported by the big bang theory. The argument of the big bang theory is that the universe has a very high matter-energy density, which has undergone significant reduction because of the expansion in the past (Winterberg 7). Further, the temperatures have increased significantly in the past because of the reductions. The big bang theory assumptions and propositions are based on the mathematical framework, which is founded on the Friedmann equations. The thermal characteristics provide the essential physical aspects, which are vital in this proposition under the radition-dominated era where there are different law aspects backed by the black body radiation.

Room of doubt

In spite of the Lavoisier's indication of the conservation law, the is room of doubt (Holton and Brush 206). Modern chemist experiments examining the reports of Lavoisier indicate that the degree of accuracy, which was attained by Lavoisier in his experiments should be taken with a high level of skepticism. Such is because of the claim that weight augmentation is balanced with its loss in the other side. However, this law is highly plausible among the 19th century chemists where it goes along the acceptance of its axiom. Nevertheless, there was a definite reason, which indicated that it is impossible to conserve the mass.

In spite of all these doubts, scholars engaged in intensive research of the conservation of mass law, which revealed that there is real conservation of mass. Thus, the arguments presented by Lavoisier were accepted and the law is widely used in physical and chemical fields in the study of mass. The acceptance of the law and its use occurred after scholars engaged in conducting intensive experiments, which focused on ascertaining the validity of this law and its applicability in the scientific field.


Conservation of mass is a principle, which indicates that matter cannot be destroyed or created. What happens is that it undergoes transformation from one physical form to another. As such, in an isolated system, which entails exclusion of other biological factors, matter cannot be created or destroyed. A close relationship exists between mass and matter.

Works Cited

Elkana, Yehuda. The Discovery of the Conservation of Energy. With a foreword by I. Bernard

Cohen. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974.

Holton, Gerald, and Brush, Stephen. Physics, the Human Adventure: From Copernicus to

Einstein and Beyond. London, Rutgers University Press.

Nuclear Power. The law of conservation of mass. Web. Oct 5th, 2017. Link: http://www.nuclear

Rutherford, F. James; Gerald Holton; and Fletcher G. Watson. Project Physics. New York: Holt,

Rinehart, and Winston, 1981.

Winterberg, Jenna. Conservation of Mass. Library of Congress, 2016. Print.

April 13, 2023

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