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Chemistry LibreTexts

Structures and Physical Properties of Period 3 Elements

This page describes the structures of the Period 3 elements from sodium to argon, and shows how these structures can be used to explain the physical properties of the elements.

Melting and boiling points


In a moment we shall explain all the ups and downs in this graph.

Electrical conductivity

Sodium, magnesium and aluminum are all good conductors of electricity. Silicon is a semiconductor. None of the rest conduct electricity. These trends are explained below.

Three metallic structures

Sodium, magnesium and aluminum all have metallic structures, which accounts for their electrical conductivity and relatively high melting and boiling points. Melting and boiling points rise across the three metals because of the increasing number of electrons which each atom can contribute to the delocalized "sea of electrons". The atoms also get smaller and have more protons as you go from sodium to magnesium to aluminum.

The attractions and therefore the melting and boiling points increase because:

  • The nuclei of the atoms are getting more positively charged.
  • The sea is getting more negatively charged.
  • The sea is getting progressively nearer to the nuclei and so more strongly attracted.

Silicon - a giant covalent structure


Silicon is a non-metal, and has a giant covalent structure exactly the same as carbon in diamond - hence the high melting point. You have to break strong covalent bonds in order to melt it. There are no obviously free electrons in the structure, and although it conducts electricity, it doesn't do so in the same way as metals. Silicon is a semiconductor.

Four molecular elements

Phosphorus, sulfur, chlorine and argon are simple molecular substances with only van der Waals attractions between the molecules. Their melting or boiling points will be lower than those of the first four members of the period which have giant structures. The presence of individual molecules prevents any possibility of electrons flowing, and so none of them conduct electricity. The sizes of the melting and boiling points are governed entirely by the sizes of the molecules:


Argon molecules consist of single argon atoms.

  • Phosphorus: There are several forms of phosphorus. The data in the graph at the top of the page applies to white phosphorus which contains P4 molecules. To melt phosphorus you don't have to break any covalent bonds - just the much weaker van der Waals forces between the molecules.
  • Sulfur: sulfur consists of S8 rings of atoms. The molecules are bigger than phosphorus molecules, and so the van der Waals attractions will be stronger, leading to a higher melting and boiling point.
  • Chlorine: Chlorine, Cl2, is a much smaller molecule with comparatively weak van der Waals attractions, and so chlorine will have a lower melting and boiling point than sulfur or phosphorus.
  • Argon: Argon molecules are just single argon atoms, Ar. The scope for van der Waals attractions between these is very limited and so the melting and boiling points of argon are lower again.


Jim Clark (