Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Subatomic Particle Configuration

As understanding of atoms increased, different experiments resulted in the discovery of the particles that of which an atom is made. Thompson is credited with first realizing that the atom is made of particles, some negatively charged and some positively charged. Rutherford was credited with identifying that the positive charge is located within a central, relatively dense nucleus. Later, in 1932, James Chadwick designed an experiment to show that neutrally charged particles also existed in atoms—neutrons.

To summarize the development of atomic models, the modern atom is understood to be made up of subatomic particles.

Proton — a positively charged subatomic particle that is found in the nucleus of an atom.
Symbol: p+
Relative charge: +1
Relative mass: 1
Actual mass: 1.674 X 10^-24
Location: In the nucleus

Electron — a negatively charged subatomic particle is is found the the space outside the nucleus.
Symbol: e-
Relative charge: -1 
Relative mass: 1/1836
Actual mass: 9.11 X 10^-28
Location: In distinct orbitals surrounding the nucleus

Neutron — a neutral subatomic particle that is found in the nucleus of an atom.
Symbol: n
Relative charge: 0
Relative mass: 1
Actual mass: 1.675 X 10^-24
Location: In the nucleus

From the information above, a few conclusions:
  • Protons and neutrons are almost identical in mass.
  • Electrons are about "1/2000" the mass of a proton. (closer to 1/1836)
  • The neutron does not affect the charge of an atom. They just add mass.

It is the unique ratio of the combination of subatomic particles in different atoms that give each element its characteristics. Thought all elements are built out of the same subatomic particles—protons, neutrons, and electrons—the many, many different combinations possible result in the many, many different elements that can be observed in creation.

The basic classification system for elements is the periodic table. The rules that identify exactly what we call a sample of an element is based on the configuration of the atoms which make it up.

Atomic Number
The basic classification is based on the number of protons. The number of protons in an atom is called its atomic number. Atoms of different elements all have different numbers of protons, and thus, different atomic numbers. If an atom has one proton, it is hydrogen. If it has 12 it is carbon. No matter what else happens, the number of protons determine the atomic number, and the atomic number determines the type of atom.

Atomic Mass
Another very important difference among atoms is its mass. The mass number is the sum of the masses of all the protons and neutrons in the nucleus of an atom. Not all elements have equal numbers of protons and neutrons, so to find out how many neutrons are in an atom:

Number of neutrons = Mass Number - Atomic Number

For example, the Atomic Number of chlorine (Cl) is 17, and its Mass Number is 35.45. Subtracting, it becomes apparent that there are 18 neutrons (generally, you ignore the decimals in this process).

The mass number also tells us how many grams one mole of the elements' atoms would weigh. NOTE: Some elements do not exist as solo atoms—oxygen, chlorine, and others are always paired, so one mole of the gas will be two moles of the atoms. Looking at the periodic table, we can know how many grams of something would be needed in order to have one mole of it. Doing math, we can, therefore, calculate the mass of any fraction of a mole of any element. So 1/10 of a mole of sodium (Na, Mass Number = 22.99) would weigh 2.299 grams.

It is the number of protons in an atom that determine what element it is. But in some cases, it is possible to add an neutron to the nucleus, which will change its atomic weight. For instance, a neutron could be added to hydrogen, given it a mass of around 2, yet with only one proton, it would still be hydrogen, atomic number 1. Atoms with the same number of protons, but different numbers of neutrons are called isotopes. Isotopes of an element have the same atomic number, but different mass numbers because they have different numbers of neutrons.

Understanding just the three previous ideas, any substance can be classified and fit into the periodic table as either an element or an isotope of an element. Understanding these concepts opens the door to working with elements in vast and complex ways.


Some definitions and content from:

Physical Science Concepts in Action, Pearson

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