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In chemistry, the standard state of a material (pure substance, mixture or solution) is a reference point used to calculate its properties under different conditions. A superscript circle ° (degree symbol) or a Plimsoll (⦵) character is used to designate a thermodynamic quantity in the standard state, such as change in enthalpy (ΔH°), change in entropy (ΔS°), or change in Gibbs free energy (ΔG°). The degree symbol has become widespread, although the Plimsoll is recommended in standards, see discussion about typesetting below.
In principle, the choice of standard state is arbitrary, although the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) recommends a conventional set of standard states for general use. The standard state should not be confused with standard temperature and pressure (STP) for gases, nor with the standard solutions used in analytical chemistry. STP is commonly used for calculations involving gases that approximate an ideal gas, whereas standard state conditions are used for thermodynamic calculations.
For a given material or substance, the standard state is the reference state for the material's thermodynamic state properties such as enthalpy, entropy, Gibbs free energy, and for many other material standards. The standard enthalpy change of formation for an element in its standard state is zero, and this convention allows a wide range of other thermodynamic quantities to be calculated and tabulated. The standard state of a substance does not have to exist in nature: for example, it is possible to calculate values for steam at 298.15 K and 105 Pa, although steam does not exist (as a gas) under these conditions. The advantage of this practice is that tables of thermodynamic properties prepared in this way are self-consistent.