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All Things Around Us Are Made of Atoms

All Things Around Us Are Made of Atoms

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Published by zahrein
Atomic structure
Atomic structure

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Published by: zahrein on Apr 01, 2008
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09/20/2010

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All things around us are made of atoms. The clothes we wear, the buildings welive in, the air around us, even our own bodies. Atoms are the microscopicbuilding blocks of every solid, liquid or gas. If all the atoms in a substance are thesame type - it is called an element. This means it cannot be broken down intoany "ingredients". Oxygen (chemical symbol O) is a pure element. Oxygen isoxygen - it is not made up of anything else. If a substance contains more thanone element, it is either a compound or a mixture. We will discuss these later, for now let's stick to elements.We said before that elements have no "ingredients" - but actually they do. Even atiny atom is built of smaller building blocks. All atoms are built of 3 basic things :
Protons
,
Neutrons
, and
Electrons
.The simplest atom is Hydrogen. A hydrogen atom is built of one proton and oneelectron. The proton sits in the centre of the atom and forms the
nucleus
of hydrogen. The electron spins around the nucleus - a bit like a moon orbiting aplanet. Hydrogen, as you can see in the diagram below, does not have anyneutrons. Larger atoms have many protons and neutrons in their nucleus, andhave many orbiting electrons.
So why doesn't the electron just spin off ? Why does it stay orbiting thenucleus?
The answer is that the electron is attracted to the nucleus because of its 'charge'.Electrons have a negative charge and protons have a positive charge (neutronsdo not have a charge). Opposite charges attract each other.
Need help to understand charge attraction? This is why clothing taken from thedrying machine 'clings'. A static charge is formed when the clothing rubs together in the machine, and this builds up a negative charge. The negative clothing isthen attracted to more positively charged things around it.
The force caused by the spinning, which should cause the electron to spin off away from the nucleus, is balanced by the charge force attracting the electrontowards the nucleus. So it doesn't fly off OR cling to the nucleus, it spins aroundbeing pulled equally in both directions.
 
Although the proton has a positive charge, and the electron has a negativecharge, the atom itself has no charge - it is
neutral
. All atoms have the samenumber of negative orbiting electrons as they have positive protons in their nucleus (each '+' is cancelled out by a '-'). If you have trouble grasping this - justdo the maths. Every proton is +1, every electron is -1, and the total of all protonsand electrons has to be zero.know that opposite charges attract each other, but the converse is alsotrue - the same charges repel each other. When there is just one protonin the nucleus (like the Hydrogen we just looked at), there isn't aproblem, but if we had two protons in the nucleus, lying side by side, theywould repel each other. They need something to keep them apart. Enter the neutron. If we draw another element, with two protons in the nucleus,we have a different element - Helium.
It is the number of protons in an atom that determines whichelement it is.
 Because Helium has 2 protons, it needs 2 electrons to be charge neutral(2 positives need 2 negatives). Also notice that Helium has 2 neutrons inthe nucleus to keep the positive protons from repelling each other andbreaking the atom apart. Because neutrons do not have a charge, theydo not affect the overall charge of the atom.We could carry on drawing bigger atoms with increasing numbers of protons, neutrons, and electrons. If we did this, we would draw theelements described in the table below :
 
ProtonsNeutronsElectronsElement Name
101Hydrogen222Helium343Lithium454Beryllium565Boron666Carbon777Nitrogen888Oxygen9109FlourineAs we increase the number of protons, the number of electrons alsoincreases.As we start to get more and more negative electrons around the nucleus,they will start to repel each other (Electrons have the same charge, andremember that same charges repel). For this reason, the electrons thatorbit the nucleus cannot be all bunched together. Like the protons in thenucleus they need to be kept apart. So electrons orbit the nucleus atdifferent distances, forming layers or '
shells
' of electrons. This is a littlebit like the planets orbiting the sun.
In lithium, the 3 electrons are in shells: two in the first, and one inthe second shell.
The first shell can hold 2 electrons before it is full, the bigger secondshell can hold up to 8, the third shell up to 18. Because we know themaximum number of electrons in each shell, we can accurately draw theatomic structure of Oxygen (lets think of the nucleus as one blob in thisdiagram rather than drawing all the protons and neutrons).

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