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Lesson 2
Atoms and atomic structure

Atoms and atomic structures are covered in this lesson. Knowledge of

this is fundamental to an understanding of the basic laws of chemistry.You
will be familiar with common terms used in chemistry by the end of this
It should take about 10 hours to complete this lesson.

By the end of this lesson you should be able to...

• define the following terms: atom; neutron; proton; electron; atomic weight;
atomic number; mass number; isotope

• explain Dalton’s atomic theory

• explain the law of conservation of mass and the law of

constant composition

• compare the properties of subatomic particles

• explain the concept of atomic charge neutrality

Basic laws of chemistry

Famous scientists, such as John Dalton, Joseph Proust and Antoine Lavoisier,
developed theories about the structure, composition and behaviour of matter.

Dalton’s Atomic Theory Read Section 2.3 What are the Postulates of
Dalton’s Atomic Theory? on pages 35–37 in the
• All matter is made up of very tiny, text book.
indivisible particles, which Dalton
called atoms. The interaction among atoms account for the properties of matter.
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• All atoms of the same element have

the same chemical properties. Learn more about atoms at http://
Conversely atoms of different
elements have different chemical There is information about elements at http://

• Compounds are formed by the

chemical combination of two or more different kinds of atoms.

• A compound or molecule is tightly bound combination of two or more atoms that

acts as a single unit.

Further studies by other scientists provided other chemical theories and laws that
proved Dalton’s Atomic Theory.

• The Law of Conservation of Mass. Matter can neither be created nor destroyed
it merely changes form. For example physical and chemical changes described
earlier. The chemical changes that occur (chemical reactions) will be discussed in
more detail later.

• The Law of Constant Composition. Any

compound is always made up of elements in the
same proportion by mass. This law is based on
the fact that a compound will always consist of
the same ratio of elements and each element
always has the same mass.

Illustration: The French chemist,

Joseph Proust, who established the
Law of Constant Composition in 1799.

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Part 2. Atoms
An atom is the smallest particle of an
element that retains all of the chemical Read Section 2.4 What are Atoms Made of? on
pages 38–43 in the text book.
properties of the element. Each atom
is composed of subatomic particles,
which are the building blocks for atoms.

Atoms consist of three types of subatomic

particles: protons, neutrons and electrons.

The subatomic particles within an atom

are have specific characteristics and are
highly organised within the structure of
the atom. The properties and locations of
the three types of subatomic particles are
shown in Table 2.1 on page 38 of your
text book.


The unit used to measure the mass of an

elementary particle and an atom is an amu,
short for Atomic Mass Unit.

• Protons have a mass of 1 amu.

• Neutrons have a mass of 1 amu.

• Electrons have a mass of approximately

0.0005 amu. They are so small that
electrons are often said to have no mass.


• Protons have a charge of +1.

• Electrons have a charge of –1.

• Neutrons have no charge (hence the name: neutral + on).

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Arrangement of subatomic particles

Study Figure 2.6, on page 38

of your text book as it
illustrates the arrangement of
a typical atom. The protons
and neutrons packed into the
nucleus, surrounded by the
negative electron charge

The nucleus of the atom is

extremely small and dense in
comparison to the extranuclear space.
You might like to watch this video that
The positively charged protons are
introduces the structure of the atom: http://
tightly packed in the nucleus and
because of their similar charge they the-atom?playlist=Chemistry
strongly repel each other. The neutral
neutrons have a role as ‘packing’
between the protons and act as buffers between the positively charged protons. The
nucleus also contributes most of the weight of the atom as both the protons and
neutrons are considered to be the ‘heavy’ subatomic particles.

The negatively charged electrons in the extranuclear space are arranged in highly
ordered orbitals (discussed later). The electron orbitals are maintained by the
repulsive forces between the electrons and the strong attractive forces between the
negatively charged electrons and the positively charged nucleus.

Activity 2.2
Activity 2.1
Complete the following self
Complete the following self
assessment. Using table 2.1 on page 38 of
your text book, determine the
1. Draw the structure of an charge, mass (both g and amu),
atom. Show the location and and location in the atom for a
charge of each subatomic proton, a neutron, and an
particle within an atom. electron.

(Note: 1 amu = 1.6606 x 10-24g)

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Elements and the periodic table

The known elements are shown in the periodic

table on the inside front cover of the text book.
The periodic table provides considerable
information about the physical and chemical
properties of each of the elements.

Many of the elements were named after planets,

mythological figures, colours, geographical
locations, and their discoverers. In chemical
formula and equations the elements are referred
to using chemical symbols: one- or two-letter
abbreviations for the names of the elements.

For each element the chemical symbol, abbreviation,

atomic number, and atomic mass are displayed in the
periodic table. Each element has a different symbol,
atomic number and atomic weight.

For example, the periodic table entry for carbon is

shown here, together with its atomic structure.

There is more information about the periodic

table (and a copy of the table) at http://

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Part 3. Mass number

The mass number is the sum of the
number of protons and the number of Read Section B Mass Number on pages 38–39 in
the text book.
neutrons in the nucleus of an atom.
The mass number gives the number of
subatomic particles in the nucleus (nucleons).

Note that most elements do not have the same number of neutrons as protons and

Part 4. Atomic number

The atomic number of an element is
shown in the periodic table above the Read Section C Atomic Number on pages 39–40
in the text book.
chemical symbol for the element, and
indicates the number of protons
present in that particular element.

For example, hydrogen has an atomic number of 1 and therefore

has one proton in its nucleus.

In an element in its natural state, before it has interacted with

any another element to form ions, compounds or molecules, the
number of protons is always equal to the number of electrons. Therefore, the atomic
number also tells us how many electrons are
present in an element in its resting state.
Activity 2.3
Study Example 2.3 on page 40 of your text
book. Complete the following self

1. Complete problem 2.2 on

page 39 of your text book.

2. Use the periodic table on the

inside cover of your text book
to find out the chemical
symbol, atomic number, and
atomic weight for each of the
following elements: carbon,
hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen,
sulphur, phosphorus, and

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Charge neutrality of an atom

An atom as a whole is electrically neutral: that is, it has no net electrical charge in its
resting state. This is because there are equal numbers of positive and negative
charges, and the charged protons and electrons cancel each other out. However, most
atoms interact with other atoms to form ions, compounds or molecules, and these
events can alter the number of electrons present in the atom, affecting the overall
charge on the atom (this is discussed later).

Part 4. Isotopes
Studies of various elements show that
the number of protons and electrons Read Section D Isotopes and Section E Atomic
Weight on pages 40–42 in the text book.
for each element will always remain
the same; the atomic number does not
vary. In contrast, the number of neutrons in an element is not always constant: the
atomic mass may vary.

Isotopes are atoms of an

element that have the
same number of protons
and the same number of
electrons but different
numbers of neutrons.
Most elements found in
nature exist in isotopic

Isotopes of an element have the same chemical

properties but their physical properties are often slightly
different (that is, mass, boiling point, density). Isotopes
of an element have the same chemical properties
(reactivity) because they have the same number of

When writing isotopes the convention is to write the

atomic number as a subscript to the left of the elemental
symbol for the atom. The mass number is written as a
superscript to the left of the elemental symbol.

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Always remember! The number of protons is

fixed and always equals the atomic number. Activity 2.4
What changes are the neutrons in the case of
Complete the following self

Study example 2.5 on page 41 of your text 1. Complete problem 2.5 on

page 41 of your text book. Do
not answer the symbol for
each isotope.
Part 5. Atomic weight
The atomic weight is the calculated
Read Section F The Mass and Size of an Atom on
average masses of the naturally
pages 42–43 in the text book.
occurring isotopes of an element.

Remember that the number of protons is fixed, and always equals the atomic number.
What changes are the neutrons.

Summary of key points

Revision problems
• Atomic number = number of protons.
Complete the following revision
• In an element, the number of protons = the self assessment.
number of electrons.
1. Complete problems 2.22 (a),
• Mass number = sum of the number of (b), (c), 2.24 (a), (b), (c),
protons and number of neutrons. (d), 2.28 (a), (b), (c), (d) and
2.32 on page 63 of your text
• Atomic weight is the real mass of an book.
element. The average mass of the various 2. Are the following statements
isotopes found in that element. are true or false?
a. the nucleus of an atom is
always positive.

b. Electrons are the heaviest

subatomic particles.

c. Electrons and protons repel

each other.

d. An atom of carbon has 10

e. The number of electrons
and neutrons in an atom is
always equal.

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Answers to activities

Revision problems

a. True
b. False
c. False
d. False
e. False

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