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Impurities are chemical substances inside a confined amount of liquid, gas, or solid, which differ from the chemical composition of the material or compound.

Chemical substance matter of constant composition best characterized by the entities (molecules, formula units, atoms) it is composed of

A chemical substance is a form of matter having constant chemical composition and characteristic properties. It cannot be separated into components by physical separation methods, i.e., without breaking chemical bonds. Chemical substances can be simple substances, chemical compounds, or alloys. Chemical elements may or may not be included in the definition, depending on expert viewpoint.

Liquid liquid object

A liquid is a nearly incompressible fluid that conforms to the shape of its container but retains a (nearly) constant volume independent of pressure. As such, it is one of the four fundamental states of matter, and is the only state with a definite volume but no fixed shape. A liquid is made up of tiny vibrating particles of matter, such as atoms, held together by intermolecular bonds. Water is, by far, the most common liquid on Earth. Like a gas, a liquid is able to flow and take the shape of a container. Most liquids resist compression, although others can be compressed. Unlike a gas, a liquid does not disperse to fill every space of a container, and maintains a fairly constant density. A distinctive property of the liquid state is surface tension, leading to wetting phenomena.

Gas gaseous object

Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter. A pure gas may be made up of individual atoms, elemental molecules made from one type of atom, or compound molecules made from a variety of atoms. A gas mixture would contain a variety of pure gases much like the air. What distinguishes a gas from liquids and solids is the vast separation of the individual gas particles. This separation usually makes a colorless gas invisible to the human observer. The interaction of gas particles in the presence of electric and gravitational fields are considered negligible, as indicated by the constant velocity vectors in the image.


Impurities are either naturally occurring or added during synthesis of a chemical or commercial product. During production, impurities may be purposely, accidentally, inevitably, or incidentally added into the substance.

Chemical synthesis is a purposeful execution of chemical reactions to obtain a product, or several products. This happens by physical and chemical manipulations usually involving one or more reactions. In modern laboratory usage, this tends to imply that the process is reproducible, reliable, and established to work in multiple laboratories.

The levels of impurities in a material are generally defined in relative terms. Standards have been established by various organizations that attempt to define the permitted levels of various impurities in a manufactured product. Strictly speaking, then a material's level of purity can only be stated as being more or less pure than some other material.

Standardization or standardisation is the process of implementing and developing technical standards based on the consensus of different parties that include firms, users, interest groups, standards organizations and governments Standardization can help to maximize compatibility, interoperability, safety, repeatability, or quality. It can also facilitate commoditization of formerly custom processes. In social sciences, including economics, the idea of standardization is close to the solution for a coordination problem, a situation in which all parties can realize mutual gains, but only by making mutually consistent decisions. This view includes the case of "spontaneous standardization processes", to produce de facto standards.

Destructive impurities

Impurities can be destructive when they obstruct the working nature of the material. Examples include ash and debris in metals and leaf pieces in blank white papers. The removal of impurities is usually done chemically. For example, in the manufacturing of iron, calcium carbonate is added to the blast furnace to remove silicon dioxide from the iron ore. Zone refining is an economically important method for the purification of semiconductors.

Debris is rubble, wreckage, ruins, litter and discarded garbage/refuse/trash, scattered remains of something destroyed, discarded, or as in geology, large rock fragments left by a melting glacier etc. Depending on context, debris can refer to a number of different things. The first apparent use of the French word in English is in a 1701 description of the army of Prince Rupert upon its retreat from a battle with the army of Oliver Cromwell, in England.

Iron Chemical element with atomic number 26

Iron is a chemical element with symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal, that belongs to the first transition series and group 8 of the periodic table. It is by mass the most common element on Earth, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust.

Blast furnace type of metallurgical furnace used for smelting to produce industrial metals

A blast furnace is a type of metallurgical furnace used for smelting to produce industrial metals, generally pig iron, but also others such as lead or copper. Blast refers to the combustion air being "forced" or supplied above atmospheric pressure.

However, some kinds of impurities can be removed by physical means. A mixture of water and salt can be separated by distillation, with water as the distillate and salt as the solid residue. Impurities are usually physically removed from liquids and gases. Removal of sand particles from metal ore is one example with solids.

Salt mineral used as ingredient, composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl)

Salt is a mineral composed primarily of sodium chloride (NaCl), a chemical compound belonging to the larger class of salts; salt in its natural form as a crystalline mineral is known as rock salt or halite. Salt is present in vast quantities in seawater, where it is the main mineral constituent. The open ocean has about 35 grams (1.2 oz) of solids per liter of sea water, a salinity of 3.5%.

Distillation method of separating mixtures based on differences in volatility of components in a boiling liquid mixture

Distillation is the process of separating the components or substances from a liquid mixture by using selective boiling and condensation. Distillation may result in essentially complete separation, or it may be a partial separation that increases the concentration of selected components in the mixture. In either case, the process exploits differences in the volatility of the mixture's components. In industrial chemistry, distillation is a unit operation of practically universal importance, but it is a physical separation process, not a chemical reaction.

Residue (chemistry) in chemistry, whatever remains or acts as a contaminant after a given class of events

In chemistry residue is whatever remains or acts as a contaminant after a given class of events.

No matter what method is used, it is usually impossible to separate an impurity completely from a material. The reason that it is impossible to remove impurities completely is of thermodynamic nature and is predicted by the second law of thermodynamics. Removing impurities completely means reducing the entropy of the system to zero. This would require an infinite amount of work and energy as predicted by the second law of thermodynamics. What technicians can do is to increase the purity of a material to as near 100% as possible or economically feasible.

Entropy physical property of the state of a system, measure of disorder

In statistical mechanics, entropy is an extensive property of a thermodynamic system. It is closely related to the number Ω of microscopic configurations that are consistent with the macroscopic quantities that characterize the system. Under the assumption that each microstate is equally probable, the entropy is the natural logarithm of the number of microstates, multiplied by the Boltzmann constant kB. Formally,

Second law of thermodynamics law of physics stating that systems spontaneously evolve towards states of higher entropy

The second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time. The total entropy of a system and its surroundings can remain constant in ideal cases where the system is in thermodynamic equilibrium, or is undergoing a (fictive) reversible process. In all processes that occur, including spontaneous processes, the total entropy of the system and its surroundings increases and the process is irreversible in the thermodynamic sense. The increase in entropy accounts for the irreversibility of natural processes, and the asymmetry between future and past.

Impurities and nucleation

When an impure liquid is cooled to its melting point the liquid, undergoing a phase transition, crystallizes around the impurities and becomes a crystalline solid. If there are no impurities then the liquid is said to be pure and can be supercooled below its melting point without becoming a solid. This occurs because the liquid has nothing to condense around so the solid cannot form a natural crystalline solid. The solid is eventually formed when dynamic arrest or glass transition occurs, but it forms into an amorphous solid  – a glass, instead, as there is no long-range order in the structure.

Impurities play an important role in the nucleation of other phase transitions. For example, the presence of foreign elements may have important effects on the mechanical and magnetic properties of metal alloys. Iron atoms in copper cause the renowned Kondo effect where the conduction electron spins form a magnetic bound state with the impurity atom. Magnetic impurities in superconductors can serve as generation sites for vortex defects. Point defects can nucleate reversed domains in ferromagnets and dramatically affect their coercivity. In general impurities are able to serve as initiation points for phase transitions because the energetic cost of creating a finite-size domain of a new phase is lower at a point defect. In order for the nucleus of a new phase to be stable, it must reach a critical size. This threshold size is often lower at an impurity site.

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Alloy mixture or metallic solid solution composed of two or more elements

An alloy is a combination of metals and of a metal or another element. Alloys are defined by a metallic bonding character. An alloy may be a solid solution of metal elements or a mixture of metallic phases. Intermetallic compounds are alloys with a defined stoichiometry and crystal structure. Zintl phases are also sometimes considered alloys depending on bond types.

Crystal solid material whose constituent atoms, molecules, or ions are arranged in an ordered pattern extending in all three spatial dimensions

A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid material whose constituents are arranged in a highly ordered microscopic structure, forming a crystal lattice that extends in all directions. In addition, macroscopic single crystals are usually identifiable by their geometrical shape, consisting of flat faces with specific, characteristic orientations. The scientific study of crystals and crystal formation is known as crystallography. The process of crystal formation via mechanisms of crystal growth is called crystallization or solidification.

Crystallographic defect disruption of the periodicity of a crystal lattice

Crystalline solids exhibit a periodic crystal structure. The positions of atoms or molecules occur on repeating fixed distances, determined by the unit cell parameters. However, the arrangement of atoms or molecules in most crystalline materials is not perfect. The regular patterns are interrupted by crystallographic defects.

Materials science interdisciplinary field which deals with the discovery and design of new materials; primarily concerned with the physical and chemical properties of solids

The interdisciplinary field of materials science, also commonly termed materials science and engineering is the design and discovery of new materials, particularly solids. The intellectual origins of materials science stem from the Enlightenment, when researchers began to use analytical thinking from chemistry, physics, and engineering to understand ancient, phenomenological observations in metallurgy and mineralogy. Materials science still incorporates elements of physics, chemistry, and engineering. As such, the field was long considered by academic institutions as a sub-field of these related fields. Beginning in the 1940s, materials science began to be more widely recognized as a specific and distinct field of science and engineering, and major technical universities around the world created dedicated schools of the study, within either the Science or Engineering schools, hence the naming.

Melting phase change

Melting, or fusion, is a physical process that results in the phase transition of a substance from a solid to a liquid. This occurs when the internal energy of the solid increases, typically by the application of heat or pressure, which increases the substance's temperature to the melting point. At the melting point, the ordering of ions or molecules in the solid breaks down to a less ordered state, and the solid melts to become a liquid.

State of matter Distinct forms that different phases of matter take on

In physics, a state of matter is one of the distinct forms in which matter can exist. Four states of matter are observable in everyday life: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Many other states are known to exist, such as glass or liquid crystal, and some only exist under extreme conditions, such as Bose–Einstein condensates, neutron-degenerate matter, and quark-gluon plasma, which only occur, respectively, in situations of extreme cold, extreme density, and extremely high-energy. Some other states are believed to be possible but remain theoretical for now. For a complete list of all exotic states of matter, see the list of states of matter.

Differential scanning calorimetry

Differential scanning calorimetry, or DSC, is a thermoanalytical technique in which the difference in the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of a sample and reference is measured as a function of temperature. Both the sample and reference are maintained at nearly the same temperature throughout the experiment. Generally, the temperature program for a DSC analysis is designed such that the sample holder temperature increases linearly as a function of time. The reference sample should have a well-defined heat capacity over the range of temperatures to be scanned.

Zone melting

Zone melting is a group of similar methods of purifying crystals, in which a narrow region of a crystal is melted, and this molten zone is moved along the crystal. The molten region melts impure solid at its forward edge and leaves a wake of purer material solidified behind it as it moves through the ingot. The impurities concentrate in the melt, and are moved to one end of the ingot. Zone refining was invented by John Desmond Bernal and further developed by William Gardner Pfann in Bell Labs as a method to prepare high purity materials, mainly semiconductors, for manufacturing transistors. Its early use was on germanium for this purpose, but it can be extended to virtually any solute-solvent system having an appreciable concentration difference between solid and liquid phases at equilibrium. This process is also known as the float zone process, particularly in semiconductor materials processing.

In chemistry, the standard molar entropy is the entropy content of one mole of substance under a standard state.

Freezing is a phase transition in which a liquid turns into a solid when its temperature is lowered below its freezing point. In contrast, solidification is a similar process where a liquid turns into a solid, not by lowering its temperature, but by increasing the pressure that it is under. Despite this technical distinction, the two processes are very similar and the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Sublimation (phase transition) transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase

Sublimation is the transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase, without passing through the intermediate liquid phase. Sublimation is an endothermic process that occurs at temperatures and pressures below a substance's triple point in its phase diagram, which corresponds to the lowest pressure at which the substance can exist as a liquid. The reverse process of sublimation is deposition or desublimation, in which a substance passes directly from a gas to a solid phase. Sublimation has also been used as a generic term to describe a solid-to-gas transition (sublimation) followed by a gas-to-solid transition (deposition). While a transition from liquid to gas is described as evaporation if it occurs below the boiling point of the liquid, and as boiling if it occurs at the boiling point, there is no such distinction within the solid-to-gas transition, which is always described as sublimation.


Crystallization is the process by which a solid forms, where the atoms or molecules are highly organized into a structure known as a crystal. Some of the ways by which crystals form are precipitating from a solution, freezing, or more rarely deposition directly from a gas. Attributes of the resulting crystal depend largely on factors such as temperature, air pressure, and in the case of liquid crystals, time of fluid evaporation.


The liquidus temperature, TL or Tliq specifies the temperature above which a material is completely liquid, and the maximum temperature at which crystals can co-exist with the melt in thermodynamic equilibrium. It is mostly used for impure substances (mixtures) such as glasses, alloys and rocks.

Interstitials defects are a variety of crystallographic defects where atoms assume a normally unoccupied site in the crystal structure. In interstitial defects three or more atoms may share one lattice site, thereby increasing its total energy. Alternatively small atoms in some crystals may occupy interstitial sites in energetically favorable configurations, such as hydrogen in palladium. Interstitials can be produced by bombarding a crystal with elementary particles having energy above the displacement threshold for that crystal, but they may also exist in small concentrations in thermodynamic equilibrium.

Melting-point depression is the phenomenon of reduction of the melting point of a material with reduction of its size. This phenomenon is very prominent in nanoscale materials, which melt at temperatures hundreds of degrees lower than bulk materials.

Solid solid object

Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter. In solids particles are closely packed. It is characterized by structural rigidity and resistance to changes of shape or volume. Unlike liquid, a solid object does not flow to take on the shape of its container, nor does it expand to fill the entire volume available to it like a gas does. The atoms in a solid are tightly bound to each other, either in a regular geometric lattice or irregularly. Solids cannot be compressed with little pressure whereas gases can be compressed with little pressure because in gases molecules are loosely packed.

Vapor–liquid–solid method

The vapor–liquid–solid method (VLS) is a mechanism for the growth of one-dimensional structures, such as nanowires, from chemical vapor deposition. The growth of a crystal through direct adsorption of a gas phase on to a solid surface is generally very slow. The VLS mechanism circumvents this by introducing a catalytic liquid alloy phase which can rapidly adsorb a vapor to supersaturation levels, and from which crystal growth can subsequently occur from nucleated seeds at the liquid–solid interface. The physical characteristics of nanowires grown in this manner depend, in a controllable way, upon the size and physical properties of the liquid alloy.

The glass forming ability of gallium(III) sulfide and lanthanum sulfide was discovered in 1976 by Loireau-Lozac’h, Guittard, and Flahut. This family of chalcogenide glasses, referred to as gallium lanthanum sulfide (Ga-La-S) glasses, have a wide region of glass formation centred about the 70Ga2S3:30La2S3 composition and can readily accept other modifiers into their structure. This means that Ga-La-S can be compositionally adjusted to give a wide variety of optical and physical properties. Optically, Ga-La-S has a high refractive index, a transmission window covering most of the visible wavelengths and extending to about 10 µm and a low maximum phonon energy, approx. 450 cm−1. Thermally, the refractive index of Ga-La-S glasses has a strong temperature dependence and low thermal conductivity, which results in strong thermal lensing. However, the high glass transition temperature of Ga-La-S makes it resistant to thermal damage, it has good chemical durability and unlike many chalcogenides which are based on arsenic, its glass components are non-toxic. A clear advantage over other chalcogenides is its high lanthanum content which allows excellent rare-earth solubility and dispersion of the ions in the glass matrix for active devices. Ga-La-S can exist in both glassy and crystalline phases, in a glassy phase, it is a semiconductor with a bandgap of 2.6 eV corresponding to a wavelength of 475 nm; consequently Ga-La-S glass takes a deep orange colour. As with all chalcogenides the phase of the bulk is determined by two key factors; the material composition and the rate at which the molten material is cooled. These variables can be controlled to manipulate the final phase of the material.

An anticrystal is a theoretical solid that is completely disordered, making it the opposite of a crystal. The mechanical properties of even a slightly disordered solid can have more in common with an anticrystal than with a crystal.