gas, in physics, one of the three commonly recognized states of matter, the other two being solid and liquid. A substance in the gaseous state has neither definite shape nor definite volume. Like liquids, gases are fluids and assume the shape of their containers. Unlike liquids, they will expand to fill any container, regardless of its size. All gases condense into liquids or solids when sufficiently cooled or compressed (see compression; condensation; liquefaction). Most gases first liquefy, but some pass directly into the solid state (see sublimation); carbon dioxide, for example, can condense into dry ice. Some gases are extremely soluble in certain liquids, the liquid absorbing many times its own volume of gas. Some solids, by a process called adsorption, can take up many times their own volume of certain gases. The behavior of gases under various conditions of pressure, temperature, and volume is described by the various gas laws. Many of the properties of gases can be understood by considering the fact that only a small part of the volume of a gas is occupied by its atoms or molecules, which are in rapid, random motion. See kinetic-molecular theory of gases.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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