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Hierarchy of Matter: Modeling Mother Nature’s Structures

Hierarchy of Matter: Modeling Mother Nature’s Structures

  • Matter is the fundamental component of all that we experience and a general framework for understanding the hierarchy with which it organizes is both functionally and philosophically useful.
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The hierarchy of the matter is a modeling system by which different levels of organic matter can be represented conceptually. This model, similar to the atomic model, extends further to encompass more complex organizations of matter in the universe.

Conceptualizing matter as a hierarchical model allows complex relationships to be visualized, analyzed, and even predicted. This article is a work in progress and makes no attempt to assert formal recognition of any concepts herein. It is intended to spark conversation and thought rather than serving as a canonical reference.

Universal Heirarchies

As one considered the hierarchy of systems it is useful to have a general framework. This “Universal Hierarchy” can be extended to more specific systems of living creatures, planetary objects, and even currently unknown systems. The Universal Hierarchy itself may be extended, but its relevance to others will not break. Below is the most general hierarchy.


An atom is a structure with protons, neutrons, and electrons. This is generally the smallest component as discussed in common texts. As a broad concept, the term atomic is used to refer to the nature of being indivisible — the smallest constituent part.

In computer science, an atomic operation is one that must be completed in its entirety to be considered valid. An example of one such operation would be the transfer of financial information from one database to another, or intra-database transfers, to reflect the transfer of funds. Consider the sending of funds from one account to another for the purchase of goods or services.

  1. Funds are debited from the Buyer’s account
  2. Funds are credited to the Seller’s account

Both operations together are considered an atomic transaction because if either were to fail then the transaction should be considered invalid. In either case of failure, there would be the arbitrary creation of value within an accounting system that is connected to the broader financial system — essentially “printing” money without authorization.

Smaller than the Atom

The concept of the atom was discussed by Greek philosophers as early as 500 B.C.E. However, modern science has quickly discovered that the atomicity of the atom was, perhaps, a bit exaggerated. Since the atom, modern research has uncovered smaller constituent parts such as quarks, leptons, and bosons. These “sub-atomic” particles likely to be superseded by more granular measures of organization just as was the case with their predecessor — the atom.


An element is a collection of atoms with the same number of protons.


A molecule is a collection of elements of the same atom bonded together.


A compound is a collection of elements of different atoms bonded together.


A mixture is a collection of elements of different atoms not bonded together.

Biological Hierarchy

The universal hierarchy can be used to model things in the most generic sense possible. When it comes to the nature of living organisms and biological systems we can be more precise. The following terms, presented in order of ascending complexity, are specific to biological systems.


Organelles include such biological entities as ribosomes, mitochondria, cytoplasm, chloroplasts, and even the Golgi apparatus.


The cell is the structure in which organelles are found and can specialize based on system role. Examples include immune cells, stem cells, epidermal cells, and even neurons.


Tissues are collections of cells in which broader structural and functional characteristics emerge. Examples include neural tissue, the skin, the gastrointestinal lining, and the leaves of plants.


Organs are strong functional components whereby multiple tissues may be found, and a large role in an organism’s existence is found. These include the heart, lungs, spleen, liver, and kidneys.


An organism is a collection of all entities below including organelles, cells, tissues, and organs. Examples include humans, animals, and even plants.

Population & Community

Collections of specific organisms are considered a population or community of organisms. These may include small isolated growths of certain plants or large populations of ants. Generally, the term community is used where gographic discernments are needed such as local or regional where population is generally used to refer to a total sampled counts.


Ecosystems are collections of different organism communities observed largely with interest in their interconnected and interdependent behaviors. The study of ecosystems describes how changes in resources, behaviors or any number of factors in a single population can have an impact on other populations. Ecological study includes the observation of both complex and simpler populations as well as non-conscious matter such as elements like water, chemicals, or air


This term is used to describe all parts of our Earth where living systems are found. This includes the oceans, land, and air ranging from deserts to rainforests and includes all forms of life. There are 5 broad classifications of biospheres including aquatic, desert, forest, grassland, and tundra. The differences in these habitats can be used to predict how life systems will specialize in order to survive and thrive.