Solid

Single crystalline form of solid insulin.

Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas, and plasma). The atoms in a solid are closely packed together and contain the least amount of kinetic energy. A solid is characterized by structural rigidity and resistance to a force applied to the surface. Unlike a liquid, a solid object does not flow to take on the shape of its container, nor does it expand to fill the entire available volume like a gas. The atoms in a solid are bound to each other, either in a regular geometric lattice (crystalline solids, which include metals and ordinary ice), or irregularly (an amorphous solid such as common window glass). Solids cannot be compressed with little pressure whereas gases can be compressed with little pressure because the molecules in a gas are loosely packed.

The branch of physics that deals with solids is called solid-state physics, and is the main branch of condensed matter physics (which also includes liquids). Materials science is primarily concerned with the physical and chemical properties of solids. Solid-state chemistry is especially concerned with the synthesis of novel materials, as well as the science of identification and chemical composition.

Microscopic description

Model of closely packed atoms within a crystalline solid.

The atoms, molecules or ions that make up solids may be arranged in an orderly repeating pattern, or irregularly. Materials whose constituents are arranged in a regular pattern are known as crystals. In some cases, the regular ordering can continue unbroken over a large scale, for example diamonds, where each diamond is a single crystal. Solid objects that are large enough to see and handle are rarely composed of a single crystal, but instead are made of a large number of single crystals, known as crystallites, whose size can vary from a few nanometers to several meters. Such materials are called polycrystalline. Almost all common metals, and many ceramics, are polycrystalline.

Atoms of Si and O; each atom has the same number of bonds, but the overall arrangement of the atoms is random.
Regular hexagonal pattern of Si and O atoms, with a Si atom at each corner and the O atoms at the centre of each side.
Schematic representation of a random-network glassy form (left) and ordered crystalline lattice (right) of identical chemical composition.

In other materials, there is no long-range order in the position of the atoms. These solids are known as amorphous solids; examples include polystyrene and glass.

Whether a solid is crystalline or amorphous depends on the material involved, and the conditions in which it was formed. Solids that are formed by slow cooling will tend to be crystalline, while solids that are frozen rapidly are more likely to be amorphous. Likewise, the specific crystal structure adopted by a crystalline solid depends on the material involved and on how it was formed.

While many common objects, such as an ice cube or a coin, are chemically identical throughout, many other common materials comprise a number of different substances packed together. For example, a typical rock is an aggregate of several different minerals and mineraloids, with no specific chemical composition. Wood is a natural organic material consisting primarily of cellulose fibers embedded in a matrix of organic lignin. In materials science, composites of more than one constituent material can be designed to have desired properties.