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Atom Basics
 

Atoms Around Us

You are made of different types of atoms.

Atoms are building blocks. If you want to create a language, you'll need an alphabet. If you want to build proteins, you will need amino acids. If you want to build molecules, you will need atoms of different elements. Each element is a little bit different from the rest. Those elements are the alphabet in the language of molecules.

Why are we talking about elements? This is the section on atoms. Atoms are the general term used to describe pieces of matter. You are made up of billions and billions of atoms. However, you may only find about 40 elements inside of your body. You will find hydrogen (H) atoms, oxygen (O) atoms, and a bunch of others. Those other atoms are made of the same basic pieces, but they are organized in different ways to make each element unique.

Common Elements

Common elements can build very different molecules.

Let's work with that idea for a bit. If you read a book, you will find a bunch of words on a 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 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 may have different masses and organization, they are all built with the same parts. Electrons, protons, and neutrons make the Universe the way it is.

Small parts combine to form larger structures.

If you want to do a little more thinking, imagine the smallest particles of matter. Those super-tiny subatomic particles are used to create 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
- Atoms
- Molecules
- Macromolecules
- Cell organelles
- Cells
- Tissues
- Organs
- Systems
- Organisms
- Populations
- Ecosystems
- Biospheres
- Planets
- Planetary Systems with Stars
- Galaxies
- The Universe
...And finish really big.

Wow. All of that is possible because of atoms.

Next Stop On Chem4Kids Tour
Next Page on Atoms
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> Overview
- Structure
- Orbitals
- Electrons
- Ions
- Neutrons
- Isotopes
- Bonding
- Compounds
- Compound Names
- Advanced Ideas

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Chemistry Quiz

Atoms Quiz

Keywords for Review

Chemical Bonds: A chemical bond is created when two atoms share (covalent bonds) or donate electrons (ionic bonds) to each other. There are single, double, and triple bonds. Bonds can occur between atoms of the same element such as oxygen (O2) and different elements such as carbon monoxide (CO).

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.

Reference Materials

Thomas Jefferson National Labs: http://education.jlab.org/atomtour/
NYU.edu: http://www.nyu.edu/pages/mathmol/textbook/atoms.html
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particle_accelerator
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atomic_clock


 
RELATED LINKS
- Chem4Kids: Atomic Structure
- Biology4Kids: Scientific Method
- Geography4Kids: Energy Quanta
- Geography4Kids: Magnetic Fields
- Physics4Kids: Modern Physics
- Physics4Kids: Nuclear Physics

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