Law of Convervation of Mass

There are a few fundamental laws that form the basis for all modern science. The most basic and fundamental law of all is called the law of conservation of mass. It forms the foundation for studying chemical reactions and the properties of compounds. It is a very simple concept that allows for scientists to study the true nature of chemical reactions and their products. This so very important and diversely employed concept is simply stated by saying “mass can not be created or destroyed.”

A simple way to to understand it is that the reactants, or ingredients, in any chemical reaction must have the same mass as the products of the reaction. An everyday example would be the burning of wood. When wood is burned, the resulting products appear to be lesser then the original wood. This is because much of the wood escaped into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and other gases. If you were to trap these gases and measure their mass along with the left over ashes and char, the mass would be consistent with the original wood.

This concept was first discussed as early 300 B.C. by Epicurus who made the realization that “the sum total of things was always such as it is now, and such it will ever remain,” The law determines that mass simply changes form, or position in space, but never ceases to exist. It may be released as a gas, or be shot off into the atmosphere, or even dissolve in a liquid, but at some level it is still there. It may sometimes be difficult to trace the products of the equation, but they were produced nonetheless.

This concept was further developed and proven by the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier. He used experimental methods to show that the products of a reaction maintain the same mass as the reactants. He did this by containing simple reactions in a sealed container where gas could not escape. This research was later furthered by the invention of the vacuum pump, which removed the atmospheric buoyancy of gases and allowed them to be more easily measured on scales.

In modern physics of relativity, this law is no longer infallible due to the ability of energy to escape a system. This is because of the inability of energies such as heat or light to be accounted for. The difference is immeasurable, except in radioactive reactions.  Even in special relativity the same concept can be applied as the law of conservation of energy which takes the ideas a step further to apply to energy in forms other then matter. This includes heat and light.  When extended to this level the law explains almost every phenomenon is our universe. It moves past the point of simply studying elements and into the realm of working with everything as small as elementary particles like quarks (the building blocks of protons and neutrons) to entire galaxy systems.

The concept has launched us into the era of chemistry rather then the Alchemy of prior generations. Scientists were now able to measure all of the products on scales. This lead to the idea of chemical elements, and the discovery of many previously unknown gases.The conservation of mass principal has brought science to where it is today.