Atoms Around Us
Atoms are building blocks. If you want to create a language, you'll need an alphabet. If you want to build molecules, you will need atoms of different elements. Elements are the alphabet in the language of molecules. Each element is a little bit different from the rest.
Why are we talking about elements when this is the section on atoms? Atoms are the general term used to describe pieces of matter. You have billions of billions of atoms in your body. However, you may only find about 40 elements. You will find billions of hydrogen (H) atoms, billions of oxygen (O) atoms, and a bunch of others. All of the atoms are made of the same basic pieces, but they are organized in different ways to make unique elements.
Let's work with that idea for a bit. If you read a book, you will find words on each page. Letters make up those words. In English, we only have twenty-six letters, but we can make thousands of words. In chemistry, you are working with almost 120 elements. When you combine them, you can make millions of different molecules.
Molecules are groups of atoms bonded together in the same way that words are groups of letters. An "A" will always be an "A" no matter what word it is in. A sodium (Na) atom will always be a sodium atom no matter what compound it is in. While the atoms have different masses and organization for each element, they are all built with the same parts. Electrons, protons, and neutrons make the Universe the way it is.
From Simple to Complex
If you want to do a little more thinking, imagine the smallest particles of matter. Super-tiny subatomic particles are used to create the parts of atoms. Protons, neutrons, and electrons can then organize to form atoms. Atoms are then used to create the molecules around us. As we just learned, there are almost 120 elements that can be found in the molecules we know. Smaller molecules can work together and build macromolecules. It just goes on. Everything you see or imagine is built from something else.
You could start really small...
- Particles of matter
- Cell organelles
- Planetary Systems with Stars
- The Universe
...And finish really big.
Wow. All of that is possible because of atoms.
Keywords for Review
Molecules: This is a group of atoms bonded together. A molecule is the smallest piece of a compound that can exist. You can hold a compound such water in a glass. One water molecule would be one piece of the H2O. The atoms could be from the same element like ozone (O3) molecules or they could be different like carbon dioxide (CO2) molecules.
Atom Smasher: Atom smashers are a fun name for particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Particle beans in the collider speed up very close to the speed of light and then hit each other. Even though they usually shoot subatomic particles, the explosion that occurs lets physicists study the structure of matter.
Atomic Mass: The atomic mass is the total mass of one atom of an element. It is the mass of the protons, neutrons, and electrons combined. The mass of all atoms is based on the mass of one carbon (C) atom. Carbon's mass is twelve AMU so one AMU is one-twelfth (1/12) the mass of a carbon atom. You may also hear the term relative atomic mass which means the measured mass is relative to the value in carbon. Atomic mass is not measured in pounds or grams, scientists use something called Daltons (Da). One Dalton is equal to one-twelfth the mass of a carbon atom.
Atomic Clock: Let’s start with an easy idea. The atomic clock is made of atoms. It also uses radiation to be the most accurate kind of clock we have. Atoms release microwaves when their electrons move from one energy level to another. The clock uses those cycles of electromagnetic radiation to measure tiny amounts of time.
Useful Reference MaterialsEncyclopedia.com:
Wikipedia (Particle Accelerators):
Wikipedia (Atomic Clock):
Thomas Jefferson National Labs:
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