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Chemistry LibreTexts

04: Atoms, Molecules, and Ions

  • Page ID
    178126
  • The basic building block of all matter is the atom. Curiously, the idea of atoms was first proposed in the fifth century BCE, when the Greek philosophers Leucippus and Democritus proposed their existence in a surprisingly modern fashion. However, their ideas never took hold among their contemporaries, and it wasn’t until the early 1800s that evidence amassed to make scientists reconsider the idea. Today, the concept of the atom is central to the study of matter.

    • 4.01 The Elements and Symbols
      All matter is composed of elements. Chemical elements are represented by a one- or two-letter symbol.
    • 4.02: Early Ideas in Atomic Theory
      The ancient Greeks proposed that matter consists of extremely small particles called atoms. Dalton postulated that each element has a characteristic type of atom that differs in properties from atoms of all other elements, and that atoms of different elements can combine in fixed, small, whole-number ratios to form compounds. Samples of a particular compound all have the same elemental proportions by mass.
    • 4.03: Chemical Formulas: How to Represent Compounds
      A chemical formula is an expression that shows the elements in a compound and the relative proportions of those elements. A molecular formula is a chemical formula of a molecular compound that shows the kinds and numbers of atoms present in a molecule of the compound. An empirical formula is a formula that shows the elements in a compound in their lowest whole-number ratio.
    • 4.04 Atomic Theory
      Chemistry is based on the modern atomic theory, which states that all matter is composed of atoms. Atoms themselves are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Each element has its own atomic number, which is equal to the number of protons in its nucleus. Isotopes of an element contain different numbers of neutrons. Elements are represented by an atomic symbol. The periodic table is a chart that organizes all the elements.
    • 4.05: Elements: Defined by Their Number of Protons
      Scientists distinguish between different elements by counting the number of protons in the nucleus. Since an atom of one element can be distinguished from an atom of another element by the number of protons in its nucleus, scientists are always interested in this number, and how this number differs between different elements. The number of protons in an atom is called its atomic number (Z). This number is very important because it is unique for atoms of a given element.
    • 4.06: Isotopes - When the Number of Neutrons Varies
      All atoms of the same element have the same number of protons, but some may have different numbers of neutrons. For example, all carbon atoms have six protons, and most have six neutrons as well. But some carbon atoms have seven or eight neutrons instead of the usual six. Atoms of the same element that differ in their numbers of neutrons are called isotopes. Many isotopes occur naturally.
    • 4.07: Looking for Patterns: The Periodic Table
      Certain elemental properties become apparent in a survey of the periodic table as a whole. Every element can be classified as either a metal, a nonmetal, or a metalloid (or semi metal). A metal is a substance that is shiny, typically (but not always) silvery in color, and an excellent conductor of electricity and heat. Metals are also malleable (they can be beaten into thin sheets) and ductile (they can be drawn into thin wires).
    • 4.08 Ions
      Ions form when atoms lose or gain electrons. Ionic compounds have positive ions and negative ions. Ionic formulas balance the total positive and negative charges. Ionic compounds have a simple system of naming. Groups of atoms can have an overall charge and make ionic compounds.
    • 4.09 Ionic Compounds