Chapter 10. Solids and Liquids

There is an urban legend that glass is an extremely thick liquid rather than a solid, even at room temperature. Proponents claim that old windows are thicker at the bottom than at the top, suggesting that the glass flowed down over time. Unfortunately, the proponents of this idea have no credible evidence that this is true, as old windows were likely not subject to the stricter manufacturing standards that exist today. Also, when mounting a piece of glass that has an obviously variable thickness, it makes structural sense to put the thicker part at the bottom, where it will support the object better.

Liquids flow when a small force is placed on them, even if only very slowly. Solids, however, may deform under a small force, but they return to their original shape when the force is relaxed. This is how glass behaves: it goes back to its original shape (unless it breaks under the applied force). Observers also point out that telescopes with glass lenses to focus light still do so even decades after manufacture—a circumstance that would not be so if the lens were liquid and flowed.

Glass is a solid at room temperature. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

A young boy holds a spray bottle while wiping a window.
Figure 10.0 “Cleaning Window.” Is he cleaning a solid or a liquid? Contrary to some claims, glass is a solid, not a very thick liquid.

In Chapter 6 “Gases,” we discussed the properties of gases. Here, we consider some properties of liquids and solids. As a review, Table 10.1 “Properties of the Three Phases of Matter” lists some general properties of the three phases of matter.

Table 10.1 Properties of the Three Phases of Matter
Phase Shape Density Compressibility
Gas fills entire container low high
Liquid fills a container from bottom to top high low
Solid rigid high low

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