TheInfoList

OR:

Every atom is composed of a
nucleus Nucleus ( : nuclei) is a Latin word for the seed inside a fruit. It most often refers to: *Atomic nucleus, the very dense central region of an atom *Cell nucleus, a central organelle of a eukaryotic cell, containing most of the cell's DNA Nucle ...
and one or more electrons bound to the nucleus. The nucleus is made of one or more
proton A proton is a stable subatomic particle, symbol , H+, or 1H+ with a positive electric charge of +1 ''e'' elementary charge. Its mass is slightly less than that of a neutron and 1,836 times the mass of an electron (the proton–electron mas ...
s and a number of
neutron The neutron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , which has a neutral (not positive or negative) charge, and a mass slightly greater than that of a proton. Protons and neutrons constitute the nuclei of atoms. Since protons and neutrons beha ...
s. Only the most common variety of
hydrogen Hydrogen is the chemical element with the symbol H and atomic number 1. Hydrogen is the lightest element. At standard conditions hydrogen is a gas of diatomic molecules having the formula . It is colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxi ...
has no neutrons. Every
solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas, and plasma). The molecules in a solid are closely packed together and contain the least amount of kinetic energy. A solid is characterized by structura ...
,
liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible fluid that conforms to the shape of its container but retains a (nearly) constant volume independent of pressure. As such, it is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being solid, gas, a ...
,
gas Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being solid, liquid, and plasma). A pure gas may be made up of individual atoms (e.g. a noble gas like neon), elemental molecules made from one type of atom (e.g. oxygen), or ...
, and plasma is composed of neutral or
ionized Ionization, or Ionisation is the process by which an atom or a molecule acquires a negative or positive charge by gaining or losing electrons, often in conjunction with other chemical changes. The resulting electrically charged atom or molecule ...
atoms. Atoms are extremely small, typically around 100
picometer The picometre (international spelling as used by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures; SI symbol: pm) or picometer ( American spelling) is a unit of length in the International System of Units (SI), equal to , or one trillionth ...
s across. They are so small that accurately predicting their behavior using
classical physics Classical physics is a group of physics theories that predate modern, more complete, or more widely applicable theories. If a currently accepted theory is considered to be modern, and its introduction represented a major paradigm shift, then the ...
, as if they were tennis balls for example, is not possible due to quantum effects. More than 99.94% of an atom's
mass Mass is an intrinsic property of a body. It was traditionally believed to be related to the quantity of matter in a physical body, until the discovery of the atom and particle physics. It was found that different atoms and different elementa ...
is in the nucleus. The protons have a positive
electric charge Electric charge is the physical property of matter that causes charged matter to experience a force when placed in an electromagnetic field. Electric charge can be ''positive'' or ''negative'' (commonly carried by protons and electrons respec ...
, the electrons have a negative electric charge, and the neutrons have no electric charge. If the number of
proton A proton is a stable subatomic particle, symbol , H+, or 1H+ with a positive electric charge of +1 ''e'' elementary charge. Its mass is slightly less than that of a neutron and 1,836 times the mass of an electron (the proton–electron mas ...
s and electrons are equal, then the atom is electrically neutral. If an atom has more or fewer electrons than protons, then it has an overall negative or positive charge, respectively – such atoms are called
ion An ion () is an atom or molecule with a net electrical charge. The charge of an electron is considered to be negative by convention and this charge is equal and opposite to the charge of a proton, which is considered to be positive by conv ...
s. The electrons of an atom are attracted to the protons in an atomic nucleus by the
electromagnetic force In physics, electromagnetism is an interaction that occurs between particles with electric charge. It is the second-strongest of the four fundamental interactions, after the strong force, and it is the dominant force in the interactions o ...
. The protons and neutrons in the nucleus are attracted to each other by the
nuclear force The nuclear force (or nucleon–nucleon interaction, residual strong force, or, historically, strong nuclear force) is a force that acts between the protons and neutrons of atoms. Neutrons and protons, both nucleons, are affected by the nucle ...
. This force is usually stronger than the electromagnetic force that repels the positively charged protons from one another. Under certain circumstances, the repelling electromagnetic force becomes stronger than the nuclear force. In this case, the nucleus
splits A split (commonly referred to as splits or the splits) is a physical position in which the legs are in line with each other and extended in opposite directions. Splits are commonly performed in various athletic activities, including dance, figu ...
and leaves behind different elements. This is a form of
nuclear decay Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration, or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by radiation. A material containing unstable nuclei is consid ...
. The number of protons in the nucleus is the '' atomic number'' and it defines to which chemical element the atom belongs. For example, any atom that contains 29 protons is
copper Copper is a chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol Cu (from la, cuprum) and atomic number 29. It is a soft, malleable, and ductility, ductile metal with very high thermal conductivity, thermal and electrical conductivity. A fre ...
. The number of
neutron The neutron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , which has a neutral (not positive or negative) charge, and a mass slightly greater than that of a proton. Protons and neutrons constitute the nuclei of atoms. Since protons and neutrons beha ...
s defines the
isotope Isotopes are two or more types of atoms that have the same atomic number (number of protons in their nuclei) and position in the periodic table (and hence belong to the same chemical element), and that differ in nucleon numbers ( mass num ...
of the element. For example, a copper atom with 34 neutrons is copper-63 (29+34), and with 36 neutrons is copper-65; natural copper is about 70% Cu-63 and the rest is Cu-65. Atoms can attach to one or more other atoms by
chemical bond A chemical bond is a lasting attraction between atoms or ions that enables the formation of molecules and crystals. The bond may result from the electrostatic force between oppositely charged ions as in ionic bonds, or through the sharing o ...
s to form
chemical compound A chemical compound is a chemical substance composed of many identical molecules (or molecular entities) containing atoms from more than one chemical element held together by chemical bonds. A molecule consisting of atoms of only one elemen ...
s such as molecules or
crystal A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas, and plasma). The molecules in a solid are closely packed together and contain the least amount of kin ...
s. For example, New York City's
Statue of Liberty The Statue of Liberty (''Liberty Enlightening the World''; French: ''La Liberté éclairant le monde'') is a colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor in New York City, in the United States. The copper statue, ...
was originally made of pure copper, but over the years, the surface combined with
oxygen Oxygen is the chemical element with the symbol O and atomic number 8. It is a member of the chalcogen group in the periodic table, a highly reactive nonmetal, and an oxidizing agent that readily forms oxides with most elements as well a ...
,
carbon Carbon () is a chemical element with the symbol C and atomic number 6. It is nonmetallic and tetravalent—its atom making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds. It belongs to group 14 of the periodic table. Carbon m ...
and
sulfur Sulfur (or sulphur in British English) is a chemical element with the symbol S and atomic number 16. It is abundant, multivalent and nonmetallic. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with a chemical formula ...
atoms to make a green
patina Patina ( or ) is a thin layer that variously forms on the surface of copper, brass, bronze and similar metals and metal alloys ( tarnish produced by oxidation or other chemical processes) or certain stones and wooden furniture (sheen produ ...
on the copper. The ability of atoms to attach and detach is responsible for most of the physical changes observed in nature.
Chemistry Chemistry is the scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a natural science that covers the elements that make up matter to the compounds made of atoms, molecules and ions: their composition, structure, properties, ...
is the discipline that studies these changes.

# History of atomic theory

## In philosophy

The basic idea that matter is made up of tiny, indivisible particles is an old idea that appeared in many ancient cultures such as those of Greece and India. The word ''atom'' is derived from the ancient Greek word ''atomos'', which means "uncuttable". This ancient idea was based in philosophical reasoning rather than scientific reasoning. Modern atomic theory is not based on these old concepts. In the early 19th century, the scientist
John Dalton John Dalton (; 5 or 6 September 1766 – 27 July 1844) was an English chemist, physicist and meteorologist. He is best known for introducing the atomic theory into chemistry, and for his research into colour blindness, which he had. Colour ...
noticed that chemical elements seemed to combine with each other by basic units of weight, and he decided to use the word "atom" to refer to these units because he assumed that these were the fundamental units of matter. About a century later it was discovered that Dalton's atoms are not actually indivisible, but the term stuck.

## Dalton's law of multiple proportions

In the early 1800s, the English chemist
John Dalton John Dalton (; 5 or 6 September 1766 – 27 July 1844) was an English chemist, physicist and meteorologist. He is best known for introducing the atomic theory into chemistry, and for his research into colour blindness, which he had. Colour ...
compiled experimental data gathered by himself and other scientists and discovered a pattern now known as the "
law of multiple proportions In chemistry, the law of multiple proportions states that if two elements form more than one compound, then the ratios of the masses of the second element which combine with a fixed mass of the first element will always be ratios of small whole nu ...
". He noticed that in chemical compounds which contain a particular chemical element, the content of that element in these compounds will differ in weight by ratios of small whole numbers. This pattern suggested to Dalton that each chemical element combines with other elements by a basic and consistent unit of weight, and he decided to call these units "atoms". For example, there are two types of tin oxide: one is a black powder that is 88.1% tin and 11.9% oxygen, and the other is a white powder that is 78.7% tin and 21.3% oxygen. Adjusting these figures, in the black oxide there is about 13.5 g of oxygen for every 100 g of tin, and in the white oxide there is about 27 g of oxygen for every 100 g of tin. 13.5 and 27 form a ratio of 1:2. Dalton concluded that in these oxides, for every tin atom there are one or two oxygen atoms respectively (
SnO Tin(II) oxide (stannous oxide) is a compound with the formula SnO. It is composed of tin and oxygen where tin has the oxidation state of +2. There are two forms, a stable blue-black form and a metastable red form. Preparation and reactions Blu ...
and SnO2). Dalton also analyzed
iron oxide Iron oxides are chemical compounds composed of iron and oxygen. Several iron oxides are recognized. All are black magnetic solids. Often they are non-stoichiometric. Oxyhydroxides are a related class of compounds, perhaps the best known of whic ...
s. There is one type of iron oxide that is a black powder which is 78.1% iron and 21.9% oxygen; and there is another iron oxide that is a red powder which is 70.4% iron and 29.6% oxygen. Adjusting these figures, in the black oxide there is about 28 g of oxygen for every 100 g of iron, and in the red oxide there is about 42 g of oxygen for every 100 g of iron. 28 and 42 form a ratio of 2:3. In these respective oxides, for every two atoms of iron, there are two or three atoms of oxygen ( Fe2O2 and Fe2O3). As a final example: nitrous oxide is 63.3% nitrogen and 36.7% oxygen,
nitric oxide Nitric oxide (nitrogen oxide or nitrogen monoxide) is a colorless gas with the formula . It is one of the principal oxides of nitrogen. Nitric oxide is a free radical: it has an unpaired electron, which is sometimes denoted by a dot in its ...
is 44.05% nitrogen and 55.95% oxygen, and
nitrogen dioxide Nitrogen dioxide is a chemical compound with the formula . It is one of several nitrogen oxides. is an intermediate in the industrial synthesis of nitric acid, millions of tons of which are produced each year for use primarily in the productio ...
is 29.5% nitrogen and 70.5% oxygen. Adjusting these figures, in nitrous oxide there is 80 g of oxygen for every 140 g of nitrogen, in nitric oxide there is about 160 g of oxygen for every 140 g of nitrogen, and in nitrogen dioxide there is 320 g of oxygen for every 140 g of nitrogen. 80, 160, and 320 form a ratio of 1:2:4. The respective formulas for these oxides are N2O, NO, and NO2.

## Kinetic theory of gases

In 1738
Daniel Bernoulli Daniel Bernoulli FRS (; – 27 March 1782) was a Swiss mathematician and physicist and was one of the many prominent mathematicians in the Bernoulli family from Basel. He is particularly remembered for his applications of mathematics to mec ...
and a number of other scientists found that they could better explain the behavior of gases by describing them as collections of sub-microscopic particles and modelling their behavior using
statistics Statistics (from German: '' Statistik'', "description of a state, a country") is the discipline that concerns the collection, organization, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data. In applying statistics to a scientific, indus ...
and
probability Probability is the branch of mathematics concerning numerical descriptions of how likely an event is to occur, or how likely it is that a proposition is true. The probability of an event is a number between 0 and 1, where, roughly speaking ...
. Unlike Dalton's atomic theory, the kinetic theory of gases describes not how gases react chemically with each other to form compounds, but how they behave physically: diffusion, viscosity, conductivity, pressure, etc.

## Brownian motion

In 1827,
botanist Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biology. A botanist, plant scientist or phytologist is a scientist who specialises in this field. The term "botany" comes from the Ancient Greek wo ...
Robert Brown used a microscope to look at dust grains floating in water and discovered that they moved about erratically, a phenomenon that became known as "
Brownian motion Brownian motion, or pedesis (from grc, πήδησις "leaping"), is the random motion of particles suspended in a medium (a liquid or a gas). This pattern of motion typically consists of random fluctuations in a particle's position in ...
". This was thought to be caused by water molecules knocking the grains about. In 1905, Albert Einstein proved the reality of these molecules and their motions by producing the first
statistical physics Statistical physics is a branch of physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its fundamental constituents, its motion and behavior through space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Physical ...
analysis of
Brownian motion Brownian motion, or pedesis (from grc, πήδησις "leaping"), is the random motion of particles suspended in a medium (a liquid or a gas). This pattern of motion typically consists of random fluctuations in a particle's position in ...
. French physicist
Jean Perrin Jean Baptiste Perrin (30 September 1870 – 17 April 1942) was a French physicist who, in his studies of the Brownian motion of minute particles suspended in liquids ( sedimentation equilibrium), verified Albert Einstein’s explanation of this ...
used Einstein's work to experimentally determine the mass and dimensions of molecules, thereby providing physical evidence for the particle nature of matter.

## Discovery of the electron

In 1897, J. J. Thomson discovered that
cathode ray Cathode rays or electron beam (e-beam) are streams of electrons observed in discharge tubes. If an evacuated glass tube is equipped with two electrodes and a voltage is applied, glass behind the positive electrode is observed to glow, due to el ...
s are not electromagnetic waves but made of particles that are 1,800 times lighter than
hydrogen Hydrogen is the chemical element with the symbol H and atomic number 1. Hydrogen is the lightest element. At standard conditions hydrogen is a gas of diatomic molecules having the formula . It is colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxi ...
(the lightest atom). Thomson concluded that these particles came from the atoms within the cathode — they were ''subatomic'' particles. He called these new particles ''corpuscles'' but they were later renamed '' electrons''. Thomson also showed that electrons were identical to particles given off by
photoelectric The photoelectric effect is the emission of electrons when electromagnetic radiation, such as light, hits a material. Electrons emitted in this manner are called photoelectrons. The phenomenon is studied in condensed matter physics, and solid sta ...
and radioactive materials. It was quickly recognized that electrons are the particles that carry
electric current An electric current is a stream of charged particles, such as electrons or ions, moving through an electrical conductor or space. It is measured as the net rate of flow of electric charge through a surface or into a control volume. The moving p ...
s in metal wires. Thomson concluded that these electrons emerged from the very atoms of the cathode in his instruments, which meant that atoms are not indivisible as Dalton thought.

## Discovery of the nucleus

J. J. Thomson thought that the negatively-charged electrons were distributed throughout the atom in a sea of positive charge that was distributed across the whole volume of the atom. This model is sometimes known as the
plum pudding model The plum pudding model is one of several historical scientific models of the atom. First proposed by J. J. Thomson in 1904 soon after the discovery of the electron, but before the discovery of the atomic nucleus, the model tried to explain two ...
.
Ernest Rutherford Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson, (30 August 1871 – 19 October 1937) was a New Zealand physicist who came to be known as the father of nuclear physics. ''Encyclopædia Britannica'' considers him to be the greatest ...
and his colleagues
Hans Geiger Johannes Wilhelm "Hans" Geiger (; ; 30 September 1882 – 24 September 1945) was a German physicist. He is best known as the co-inventor of the detector component of the Geiger counter and for the Geiger–Marsden experiment which discove ...
and Ernest Marsden came to have doubts about the Thomson model after they encountered difficulties when they tried to build an instrument to measure the charge-to-mass ratio of alpha particles (these are positively-charged particles emitted by certain radioactive substances such as
radium Radium is a chemical element with the symbol Ra and atomic number 88. It is the sixth element in group 2 of the periodic table, also known as the alkaline earth metals. Pure radium is silvery-white, but it readily reacts with nitrogen (ra ...
). The alpha particles were being scattered by the air in the detection chamber, which made the measurements unreliable. Thomson had encountered a similar problem in his work on cathode rays, which he solved by creating a near-perfect vacuum in his instruments. Rutherford didn't think he'd run into this same problem because alpha particles are much heavier than electrons. According to Thomson's model of the atom, the positive charge in the atom is not concentrated enough to produce an electric field strong enough to deflect an alpha particle, and the electrons are so lightweight they should be pushed aside effortlessly by the much heavier alpha particles. Yet there was scattering, so Rutherford and his colleagues decided to investigate this scattering carefully. Heilbron (2003). ''Ernest Rutherford and the Explosion of Atoms'', pp. 64-68 Between 1908 and 1913, Rutherford and his colleagues performed a series of experiments in which they bombarded thin foils of metal with alpha particles. They spotted alpha particles being deflected by angles greater than 90°. To explain this, Rutherford proposed that the positive charge of the atom is not distributed throughout the atom's volume as Thomson believed, but is concentrated in a tiny nucleus at the center. Only such an intense concentration of charge could produce an electric field strong enough to deflect the alpha particles as observed.

## Discovery of isotopes

Frederick Soddy Frederick Soddy FRS (2 September 1877 – 22 September 1956) was an English radiochemist who explained, with Ernest Rutherford, that radioactivity is due to the transmutation of elements, now known to involve nuclear reactions. He also p ...
discovered that there appeared to be more than one type of atom at each position on the
periodic table The periodic table, also known as the periodic table of the (chemical) elements, is a rows and columns arrangement of the chemical elements. It is widely used in chemistry, physics, and other sciences, and is generally seen as an icon of ch ...
. The term
isotope Isotopes are two or more types of atoms that have the same atomic number (number of protons in their nuclei) and position in the periodic table (and hence belong to the same chemical element), and that differ in nucleon numbers ( mass num ...
was coined by Margaret Todd as a suitable name for different atoms that belong to the same element. J. J. Thomson created a technique for
isotope separation Isotope separation is the process of concentrating specific isotopes of a chemical element by removing other isotopes. The use of the nuclides produced is varied. The largest variety is used in research (e.g. in chemistry where atoms of "marker" n ...
through his work on ionized gases, which subsequently led to the discovery of
stable isotope The term stable isotope has a meaning similar to stable nuclide, but is preferably used when speaking of nuclides of a specific element. Hence, the plural form stable isotopes usually refers to isotopes of the same element. The relative abundan ...
s.

## Bohr model

In 1913, the physicist
Niels Bohr Niels Henrik David Bohr (; 7 October 1885 – 18 November 1962) was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 ...
proposed a model in which the electrons of an atom were assumed to orbit the nucleus but could only do so in a finite set of orbits, and could jump between these orbits only in discrete changes of energy corresponding to absorption or radiation of a photon. This quantization was used to explain why the electrons' orbits are stable (given that normally, charges in acceleration, including circular motion, lose kinetic energy which is emitted as electromagnetic radiation, see ''
synchrotron radiation Synchrotron radiation (also known as magnetobremsstrahlung radiation) is the electromagnetic radiation emitted when relativistic charged particles are subject to an acceleration perpendicular to their velocity (). It is produced artificially in ...
'') and why elements absorb and emit electromagnetic radiation in discrete spectra. Later in the same year
Henry Moseley Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley (; 23 November 1887 – 10 August 1915) was an English physicist, whose contribution to the science of physics was the justification from physical laws of the previous empirical and chemical concept of the atomic num ...
provided additional experimental evidence in favor of Niels Bohr's theory. These results refined
Ernest Rutherford Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson, (30 August 1871 – 19 October 1937) was a New Zealand physicist who came to be known as the father of nuclear physics. ''Encyclopædia Britannica'' considers him to be the greatest ...
's and
Antonius van den Broek Antonius Johannes van den Broek (4 May 1870, Zoetermeer – 25 October 1926, Bilthoven) was a Dutch amateur physicist notable for being the first who realized that the number of an element in the periodic table (now called atomic number) correspo ...
's model, which proposed that the atom contains in its
nucleus Nucleus ( : nuclei) is a Latin word for the seed inside a fruit. It most often refers to: *Atomic nucleus, the very dense central region of an atom *Cell nucleus, a central organelle of a eukaryotic cell, containing most of the cell's DNA Nucle ...
a number of positive
nuclear charge In atomic physics, the effective nuclear charge is the actual amount of positive (nuclear) charge experienced by an electron in a multi-electron atom. The term "effective" is used because the shielding effect of negatively charged electrons preven ...
s that is equal to its (atomic) number in the periodic table. Until these experiments, atomic number was not known to be a physical and experimental quantity. That it is equal to the atomic nuclear charge remains the accepted atomic model today.
Chemical bond A chemical bond is a lasting attraction between atoms or ions that enables the formation of molecules and crystals. The bond may result from the electrostatic force between oppositely charged ions as in ionic bonds, or through the sharing o ...
s between atoms were explained by
Gilbert Newton Lewis Gilbert Newton Lewis (October 23 or October 25, 1875 – March 23, 1946) was an American physical chemist and a Dean of the College of Chemistry at University of California, Berkeley. Lewis was best known for his discovery of the covalent bond ...
in 1916, as the interactions between their constituent electrons. As the
chemical properties A chemical property is any of a material's properties that becomes evident during, or after, a chemical reaction; that is, any quality that can be established only by changing a substance's chemical identity.William L. Masterton, Cecile N. Hurley ...
of the elements were known to largely repeat themselves according to the
periodic law Periodic trends are specific patterns that are present in the periodic table that illustrate different aspects of a certain element. They were discovered by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in the year 1863. Major periodic trends include ato ...
, in 1919 the American chemist
Irving Langmuir Irving Langmuir (; January 31, 1881 – August 16, 1957) was an American chemist, physicist, and engineer. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1932 for his work in surface chemistry. Langmuir's most famous publication is the 1919 ...
suggested that this could be explained if the electrons in an atom were connected or clustered in some manner. Groups of electrons were thought to occupy a set of
electron shell In chemistry and atomic physics, an electron shell may be thought of as an orbit followed by electrons around an atom's nucleus. The closest shell to the nucleus is called the "1 shell" (also called the "K shell"), followed by the "2 shell" (o ...
s about the nucleus. The Bohr model of the atom was the first complete physical model of the atom. It described the overall structure of the atom, how atoms bond to each other, and predicted the spectral lines of hydrogen. Bohr's model was not perfect and was soon superseded by the more accurate Schrödinger model, but it was sufficient to evaporate any remaining doubts that matter is composed of atoms. For chemists, the idea of the atom had been a useful heuristic tool, but physicists had doubts as to whether matter really is made up of atoms as nobody had yet developed a complete physical model of the atom.

## The Schrödinger model

The
Stern–Gerlach experiment The Stern–Gerlach experiment demonstrated that the spatial orientation of angular momentum is quantized. Thus an atomic-scale system was shown to have intrinsically quantum properties. In the original experiment, silver atoms were sent throu ...
of 1922 provided further evidence of the quantum nature of atomic properties. When a beam of silver atoms was passed through a specially shaped magnetic field, the beam was split in a way correlated with the direction of an atom's angular momentum, or
spin Spin or spinning most often refers to: * Spinning (textiles), the creation of yarn or thread by twisting fibers together, traditionally by hand spinning * Spin, the rotation of an object around a central axis * Spin (propaganda), an intentionally ...
. As this spin direction is initially random, the beam would be expected to deflect in a random direction. Instead, the beam was split into two directional components, corresponding to the atomic
spin Spin or spinning most often refers to: * Spinning (textiles), the creation of yarn or thread by twisting fibers together, traditionally by hand spinning * Spin, the rotation of an object around a central axis * Spin (propaganda), an intentionally ...
being oriented up or down with respect to the magnetic field. In 1925,
Werner Heisenberg Werner Karl Heisenberg () (5 December 1901 – 1 February 1976) was a German theoretical physicist and one of the main pioneers of the theory of quantum mechanics. He published his work in 1925 in a breakthrough paper. In the subsequent seri ...
published the first consistent mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics ( matrix mechanics). One year earlier, Louis de Broglie had proposed the de Broglie hypothesis: that all particles behave like waves to some extent, and in 1926
Erwin Schrödinger Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger (, ; ; 12 August 1887 – 4 January 1961), sometimes written as or , was a Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist with Irish citizenship who developed a number of fundamental results in quantum theo ...
used this idea to develop the
Schrödinger equation The Schrödinger equation is a linear partial differential equation that governs the wave function of a quantum-mechanical system. It is a key result in quantum mechanics, and its discovery was a significant landmark in the development of the ...
, a mathematical model of the atom (wave mechanics) that described the electrons as three-dimensional
waveform In electronics, acoustics, and related fields, the waveform of a signal is the shape of its graph as a function of time, independent of its time and magnitude scales and of any displacement in time.David Crecraft, David Gorham, ''Electron ...
s rather than point particles. A consequence of using waveforms to describe particles is that it is mathematically impossible to obtain precise values for both the
position Position often refers to: * Position (geometry), the spatial location (rather than orientation) of an entity * Position, a job or occupation Position may also refer to: Games and recreation * Position (poker), location relative to the dealer * ...
and
momentum In Newtonian mechanics, momentum (more specifically linear momentum or translational momentum) is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. It is a vector quantity, possessing a magnitude and a direction. If is an object's mass a ...
of a particle at a given point in time. This became known as the
uncertainty principle In quantum mechanics, the uncertainty principle (also known as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle) is any of a variety of mathematical inequalities asserting a fundamental limit to the accuracy with which the values for certain pairs of physic ...
, formulated by
Werner Heisenberg Werner Karl Heisenberg () (5 December 1901 – 1 February 1976) was a German theoretical physicist and one of the main pioneers of the theory of quantum mechanics. He published his work in 1925 in a breakthrough paper. In the subsequent seri ...
in 1927. In this concept, for a given accuracy in measuring a position one could only obtain a range of probable values for momentum, and vice versa. This model was able to explain observations of atomic behavior that previous models could not, such as certain structural and spectral patterns of atoms larger than hydrogen. Thus, the planetary model of the atom was discarded in favor of one that described atomic orbital zones around the nucleus where a given electron is most likely to be observed.

## Discovery of the neutron

The development of the
mass spectrometer Mass spectrometry (MS) is an analytical technique that is used to measure the mass-to-charge ratio of ions. The results are presented as a '' mass spectrum'', a plot of intensity as a function of the mass-to-charge ratio. Mass spectrometry is us ...
allowed the mass of atoms to be measured with increased accuracy. The device uses a magnet to bend the trajectory of a beam of ions, and the amount of deflection is determined by the ratio of an atom's mass to its charge. The chemist Francis William Aston used this instrument to show that isotopes had different masses. The atomic mass of these isotopes varied by integer amounts, called the whole number rule. The explanation for these different isotopes awaited the discovery of the
neutron The neutron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , which has a neutral (not positive or negative) charge, and a mass slightly greater than that of a proton. Protons and neutrons constitute the nuclei of atoms. Since protons and neutrons beha ...
, an uncharged particle with a mass similar to the
proton A proton is a stable subatomic particle, symbol , H+, or 1H+ with a positive electric charge of +1 ''e'' elementary charge. Its mass is slightly less than that of a neutron and 1,836 times the mass of an electron (the proton–electron mas ...
, by the physicist
James Chadwick Sir James Chadwick, (20 October 1891 – 24 July 1974) was an English physicist who was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the neutron in 1932. In 1941, he wrote the final draft of the MAUD Report, which ins ...
in 1932. Isotopes were then explained as elements with the same number of protons, but different numbers of neutrons within the nucleus.

## Fission, high-energy physics and condensed matter

In 1938, the German chemist
Otto Hahn Otto Hahn (; 8 March 1879 – 28 July 1968) was a German chemist who was a pioneer in the fields of radioactivity and radiochemistry. He is referred to as the father of nuclear chemistry and father of nuclear fission. Hahn and Lise Meitne ...
, a student of Rutherford, directed neutrons onto uranium atoms expecting to get
transuranium element The transuranium elements (also known as transuranic elements) are the chemical elements with atomic numbers greater than 92, which is the atomic number of uranium. All of these elements are unstable and decay radioactively into other elements. ...
s. Instead, his chemical experiments showed
barium Barium is a chemical element with the symbol Ba and atomic number 56. It is the fifth element in group 2 and is a soft, silvery alkaline earth metal. Because of its high chemical reactivity, barium is never found in nature as a free element. Th ...
as a product. A year later,
Lise Meitner Elise Meitner ( , ; 7 November 1878 – 27 October 1968) was an Austrian-Swedish physicist who was one of those responsible for the discovery of the element protactinium and nuclear fission. While working at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute on ra ...
and her nephew
Otto Frisch Otto Robert Frisch FRS (1 October 1904 – 22 September 1979) was an Austrian-born British physicist who worked on nuclear physics. With Lise Meitner he advanced the first theoretical explanation of nuclear fission (coining the term) and first ...
verified that Hahn's result were the first experimental ''nuclear fission''. In 1944, Hahn received the
Nobel Prize in Chemistry ) , image = Nobel Prize.png , alt = A golden medallion with an embossed image of a bearded man facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then "M ...
. Despite Hahn's efforts, the contributions of Meitner and Frisch were not recognized. In the 1950s, the development of improved
particle accelerator A particle accelerator is a machine that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to very high speeds and energies, and to contain them in well-defined beams. Large accelerators are used for fundamental research in particle ...
s and particle detectors allowed scientists to study the impacts of atoms moving at high energies. Neutrons and protons were found to be
hadron In particle physics, a hadron (; grc, ἁδρός, hadrós; "stout, thick") is a composite subatomic particle made of two or more quarks held together by the strong interaction. They are analogous to molecules that are held together by the ele ...
s, or composites of smaller particles called
quark A quark () is a type of elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei. All comm ...
s. The standard model of particle physics was developed that so far has successfully explained the properties of the nucleus in terms of these sub-atomic particles and the forces that govern their interactions.

# Structure

## Subatomic particles

Though the word ''atom'' originally denoted a particle that cannot be cut into smaller particles, in modern scientific usage the atom is composed of various
subatomic particle In physical sciences, a subatomic particle is a particle that composes an atom. According to the Standard Model of particle physics, a subatomic particle can be either a composite particle, which is composed of other particles (for example, a p ...
s. The constituent particles of an atom are the electron, the
proton A proton is a stable subatomic particle, symbol , H+, or 1H+ with a positive electric charge of +1 ''e'' elementary charge. Its mass is slightly less than that of a neutron and 1,836 times the mass of an electron (the proton–electron mas ...
and the
neutron The neutron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , which has a neutral (not positive or negative) charge, and a mass slightly greater than that of a proton. Protons and neutrons constitute the nuclei of atoms. Since protons and neutrons beha ...
. The electron is by far the least massive of these particles at , with a negative
electrical charge Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion of matter that has a property of electric charge. Electricity is related to magnetism, both being part of the phenomenon of electromagnetism, as described b ...
and a size that is too small to be measured using available techniques. It was the lightest particle with a positive rest mass measured, until the discovery of
neutrino A neutrino ( ; denoted by the Greek letter ) is a fermion (an elementary particle with spin of ) that interacts only via the weak interaction and gravity. The neutrino is so named because it is electrically neutral and because its rest m ...
mass. Under ordinary conditions, electrons are bound to the positively charged nucleus by the attraction created from opposite electric charges. If an atom has more or fewer electrons than its atomic number, then it becomes respectively negatively or positively charged as a whole; a charged atom is called an
ion An ion () is an atom or molecule with a net electrical charge. The charge of an electron is considered to be negative by convention and this charge is equal and opposite to the charge of a proton, which is considered to be positive by conv ...
. Electrons have been known since the late 19th century, mostly thanks to J.J. Thomson; see history of subatomic physics for details. Protons have a positive charge and a mass 1,836 times that of the electron, at . The number of protons in an atom is called its atomic number.
Ernest Rutherford Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson, (30 August 1871 – 19 October 1937) was a New Zealand physicist who came to be known as the father of nuclear physics. ''Encyclopædia Britannica'' considers him to be the greatest ...
(1919) observed that nitrogen under alpha-particle bombardment ejects what appeared to be hydrogen nuclei. By 1920 he had accepted that the hydrogen nucleus is a distinct particle within the atom and named it
proton A proton is a stable subatomic particle, symbol , H+, or 1H+ with a positive electric charge of +1 ''e'' elementary charge. Its mass is slightly less than that of a neutron and 1,836 times the mass of an electron (the proton–electron mas ...
. Neutrons have no electrical charge and have a free mass of 1,839 times the mass of the electron, or .Mohr, P.J.; Taylor, B.N. and Newell, D.B. (2014)
"The 2014 CODATA Recommended Values of the Fundamental Physical Constants"
(Web Version 7.0). The database was developed by J. Baker, M. Douma, and S. Kotochigova. (2014). National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20899.
Neutrons are the heaviest of the three constituent particles, but their mass can be reduced by the
nuclear binding energy Nuclear binding energy in experimental physics is the minimum energy that is required to disassemble the nucleus of an atom into its constituent protons and neutrons, known collectively as nucleons. The binding energy for stable nuclei is alway ...
. Neutrons and protons (collectively known as
nucleon In physics and chemistry, a nucleon is either a proton or a neutron, considered in its role as a component of an atomic nucleus. The number of nucleons in a nucleus defines the atom's mass number (nucleon number). Until the 1960s, nucleons we ...
s) have comparable dimensions—on the order of —although the 'surface' of these particles is not sharply defined. The neutron was discovered in 1932 by the English physicist
James Chadwick Sir James Chadwick, (20 October 1891 – 24 July 1974) was an English physicist who was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the neutron in 1932. In 1941, he wrote the final draft of the MAUD Report, which ins ...
. In the
Standard Model The Standard Model of particle physics is the theory describing three of the four known fundamental forces ( electromagnetic, weak and strong interactions - excluding gravity) in the universe and classifying all known elementary particles. It ...
of physics, electrons are truly elementary particles with no internal structure, whereas protons and neutrons are composite particles composed of
elementary particle In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a subatomic particle that is not composed of other particles. Particles currently thought to be elementary include electrons, the fundamental fermions (quarks, leptons, an ...
s called
quark A quark () is a type of elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei. All comm ...
s. There are two types of quarks in atoms, each having a fractional electric charge. Protons are composed of two
up quark The up quark or u quark (symbol: u) is the lightest of all quarks, a type of elementary particle, and a significant constituent of matter. It, along with the down quark, forms the neutrons (one up quark, two down quarks) and protons (two up ...
s (each with charge +) and one
down quark The down quark or d quark (symbol: d) is the second-lightest of all quarks, a type of elementary particle, and a major constituent of matter. Together with the up quark, it forms the neutrons (one up quark, two down quarks) and protons (tw ...
(with a charge of −). Neutrons consist of one up quark and two down quarks. This distinction accounts for the difference in mass and charge between the two particles. The quarks are held together by the
strong interaction The strong interaction or strong force is a fundamental interaction that confines quarks into proton, neutron, and other hadron particles. The strong interaction also binds neutrons and protons to create atomic nuclei, where it is called t ...
(or strong force), which is mediated by
gluon A gluon ( ) is an elementary particle that acts as the exchange particle (or gauge boson) for the strong force between quarks. It is analogous to the exchange of photons in the electromagnetic force between two charged particles. Gluons b ...
s. The protons and neutrons, in turn, are held to each other in the nucleus by the
nuclear force The nuclear force (or nucleon–nucleon interaction, residual strong force, or, historically, strong nuclear force) is a force that acts between the protons and neutrons of atoms. Neutrons and protons, both nucleons, are affected by the nucle ...
, which is a residuum of the strong force that has somewhat different range-properties (see the article on the nuclear force for more). The gluon is a member of the family of
gauge boson In particle physics, a gauge boson is a bosonic elementary particle that acts as the force carrier for elementary fermions. Elementary particles, whose interactions are described by a gauge theory, interact with each other by the exchange of ga ...
s, which are elementary particles that mediate physical forces.

## Nucleus

All the bound protons and neutrons in an atom make up a tiny atomic nucleus, and are collectively called
nucleon In physics and chemistry, a nucleon is either a proton or a neutron, considered in its role as a component of an atomic nucleus. The number of nucleons in a nucleus defines the atom's mass number (nucleon number). Until the 1960s, nucleons we ...
s. The radius of a nucleus is approximately equal to
femtometre The magnitudes_.html" ;"title="Magnitude_(mathematics).html" ;"title="atom.html" ;"title="helium helium_atom_and_perspective_Magnitude_(mathematics)">magnitudes_">Magnitude_(mathematics).html"_;"title="atom.html"_;"title="helium_atom">helium_a ...
s, where $A$ is the total number of nucleons. This is much smaller than the radius of the atom, which is on the order of 105 fm. The nucleons are bound together by a short-ranged attractive potential called the residual strong force. At distances smaller than 2.5 fm this force is much more powerful than the
electrostatic force Coulomb's inverse-square law, or simply Coulomb's law, is an experimental law of physics that quantifies the amount of force between two stationary, electrically charged particles. The electric force between charged bodies at rest is conventio ...
that causes positively charged protons to repel each other. Atoms of the same
element Element or elements may refer to: Science * Chemical element, a pure substance of one type of atom * Heating element, a device that generates heat by electrical resistance * Orbital elements, parameters required to identify a specific orbit of o ...
have the same number of protons, called the atomic number. Within a single element, the number of neutrons may vary, determining the
isotope Isotopes are two or more types of atoms that have the same atomic number (number of protons in their nuclei) and position in the periodic table (and hence belong to the same chemical element), and that differ in nucleon numbers ( mass num ...
of that element. The total number of protons and neutrons determine the
nuclide A nuclide (or nucleide, from nucleus, also known as nuclear species) is a class of atoms characterized by their number of protons, ''Z'', their number of neutrons, ''N'', and their nuclear energy state. The word ''nuclide'' was coined by Truman ...
. The number of neutrons relative to the protons determines the stability of the nucleus, with certain isotopes undergoing radioactive decay. The proton, the electron, and the neutron are classified as
fermion In particle physics, a fermion is a particle that follows Fermi–Dirac statistics. Generally, it has a half-odd-integer spin: spin , spin , etc. In addition, these particles obey the Pauli exclusion principle. Fermions include all quarks an ...
s. Fermions obey the
Pauli exclusion principle In quantum mechanics, the Pauli exclusion principle states that two or more identical particles with half-integer spins (i.e. fermions) cannot occupy the same quantum state within a quantum system simultaneously. This principle was formula ...
which prohibits '' identical'' fermions, such as multiple protons, from occupying the same quantum state at the same time. Thus, every proton in the nucleus must occupy a quantum state different from all other protons, and the same applies to all neutrons of the nucleus and to all electrons of the electron cloud. A nucleus that has a different number of protons than neutrons can potentially drop to a lower energy state through a radioactive decay that causes the number of protons and neutrons to more closely match. As a result, atoms with matching numbers of protons and neutrons are more stable against decay, but with increasing atomic number, the mutual repulsion of the protons requires an increasing proportion of neutrons to maintain the stability of the nucleus. The number of protons and neutrons in the atomic nucleus can be modified, although this can require very high energies because of the strong force.
Nuclear fusion Nuclear fusion is a reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei are combined to form one or more different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles ( neutrons or protons). The difference in mass between the reactants and products is manif ...
occurs when multiple atomic particles join to form a heavier nucleus, such as through the energetic collision of two nuclei. For example, at the core of the Sun protons require energies of 3 to 10 keV to overcome their mutual repulsion—the
coulomb barrier The Coulomb barrier, named after Coulomb's law, which is in turn named after physicist Charles-Augustin de Coulomb, is the energy barrier due to electrostatic interaction that two nuclei need to overcome so they can get close enough to undergo a ...
—and fuse together into a single nucleus.
Nuclear fission Nuclear fission is a reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into two or more smaller nuclei. The fission process often produces gamma photons, and releases a very large amount of energy even by the energetic standards of r ...
is the opposite process, causing a nucleus to split into two smaller nuclei—usually through radioactive decay. The nucleus can also be modified through bombardment by high energy subatomic particles or photons. If this modifies the number of protons in a nucleus, the atom changes to a different chemical element. If the mass of the nucleus following a fusion reaction is less than the sum of the masses of the separate particles, then the difference between these two values can be emitted as a type of usable energy (such as a
gamma ray A gamma ray, also known as gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation arising from the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei. It consists of the shortest wavelength electromagnetic waves, typically ...
, or the kinetic energy of a
beta particle A beta particle, also called beta ray or beta radiation (symbol β), is a high-energy, high-speed electron or positron emitted by the radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus during the process of beta decay. There are two forms of beta decay, β ...
), as described by Albert Einstein's mass-energy equivalence formula, $E=mc^2$, where $m$ is the mass loss and $c$ is the
speed of light The speed of light in vacuum, commonly denoted , is a universal physical constant that is important in many areas of physics. The speed of light is exactly equal to ). According to the special theory of relativity, is the upper limit for ...
. This deficit is part of the
binding energy In physics and chemistry, binding energy is the smallest amount of energy required to remove a particle from a system of particles or to disassemble a system of particles into individual parts. In the former meaning the term is predominantly use ...
of the new nucleus, and it is the non-recoverable loss of the energy that causes the fused particles to remain together in a state that requires this energy to separate. The fusion of two nuclei that create larger nuclei with lower atomic numbers than
iron Iron () is a chemical element with symbol Fe (from la, ferrum) and atomic number 26. It is a metal that belongs to the first transition series and group 8 of the periodic table. It is, by mass, the most common element on Earth, right in fr ...
and
nickel Nickel is a chemical element with symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel is a hard and ductile transition metal. Pure nickel is chemically reactive but large pieces are slow ...
—a total nucleon number of about 60—is usually an
exothermic process In thermodynamics, an exothermic process () is a thermodynamic process or reaction that releases energy from the system to its surroundings, usually in the form of heat, but also in a form of light (e.g. a spark, flame, or flash), electricity ...
that releases more energy than is required to bring them together. It is this energy-releasing process that makes nuclear fusion in
star A star is an astronomical object comprising a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by its gravity. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many other stars are visible to the naked eye at night, but their immense distances from Eart ...
s a self-sustaining reaction. For heavier nuclei, the binding energy per
nucleon In physics and chemistry, a nucleon is either a proton or a neutron, considered in its role as a component of an atomic nucleus. The number of nucleons in a nucleus defines the atom's mass number (nucleon number). Until the 1960s, nucleons we ...
in the nucleus begins to decrease. That means fusion processes producing nuclei that have atomic numbers higher than about 26, and atomic masses higher than about 60, is an
endothermic process In thermochemistry, an endothermic process () is any thermodynamic process with an increase in the enthalpy (or internal energy ) of the system.Oxtoby, D. W; Gillis, H.P., Butler, L. J. (2015).''Principle of Modern Chemistry'', Brooks Cole. ...
. These more massive nuclei can not undergo an energy-producing fusion reaction that can sustain the
hydrostatic equilibrium In fluid mechanics, hydrostatic equilibrium (hydrostatic balance, hydrostasy) is the condition of a fluid or plastic solid at rest, which occurs when external forces, such as gravity, are balanced by a pressure-gradient force. In the planetary ...
of a star.

## Electron cloud

The electrons in an atom are attracted to the protons in the nucleus by the
electromagnetic force In physics, electromagnetism is an interaction that occurs between particles with electric charge. It is the second-strongest of the four fundamental interactions, after the strong force, and it is the dominant force in the interactions o ...
. This force binds the electrons inside an
electrostatic Electrostatics is a branch of physics that studies electric charges at rest ( static electricity). Since classical times, it has been known that some materials, such as amber, attract lightweight particles after rubbing. The Greek word for ...
potential well A potential well is the region surrounding a local minimum of potential energy. Energy captured in a potential well is unable to convert to another type of energy (kinetic energy in the case of a gravitational potential well) because it is cap ...
surrounding the smaller nucleus, which means that an external source of energy is needed for the electron to escape. The closer an electron is to the nucleus, the greater the attractive force. Hence electrons bound near the center of the potential well require more energy to escape than those at greater separations. Electrons, like other particles, have properties of both a particle and a wave. The electron cloud is a region inside the potential well where each electron forms a type of three-dimensional
standing wave In physics, a standing wave, also known as a stationary wave, is a wave that oscillates in time but whose peak amplitude profile does not move in space. The peak amplitude of the wave oscillations at any point in space is constant with respect ...
—a wave form that does not move relative to the nucleus. This behavior is defined by an atomic orbital, a mathematical function that characterises the probability that an electron appears to be at a particular location when its position is measured. Only a discrete (or quantized) set of these orbitals exist around the nucleus, as other possible wave patterns rapidly decay into a more stable form. Orbitals can have one or more ring or node structures, and differ from each other in size, shape and orientation. Each atomic orbital corresponds to a particular
energy level A quantum mechanical system or particle that is bound—that is, confined spatially—can only take on certain discrete values of energy, called energy levels. This contrasts with classical particles, which can have any amount of energy. The ...
of the electron. The electron can change its state to a higher energy level by absorbing a
photon A photon () is an elementary particle that is a quantum of the electromagnetic field, including electromagnetic radiation such as light and radio waves, and the force carrier for the electromagnetic force. Photons are massless, so they always m ...
with sufficient energy to boost it into the new quantum state. Likewise, through
spontaneous emission Spontaneous emission is the process in which a quantum mechanical system (such as a molecule, an atom or a subatomic particle) transits from an excited energy state to a lower energy state (e.g., its ground state) and emits a quantized amount o ...
, an electron in a higher energy state can drop to a lower energy state while radiating the excess energy as a photon. These characteristic energy values, defined by the differences in the energies of the quantum states, are responsible for
atomic spectral line Spectroscopy is the field of study that measures and interprets the electromagnetic spectra that result from the interaction between electromagnetic radiation and matter as a function of the wavelength or frequency of the radiation. Matter wa ...
s. The amount of energy needed to remove or add an electron—the
electron binding energy The electron ( or ) is a subatomic particle with a negative one elementary electric charge. Electrons belong to the first generation of the lepton particle family, and are generally thought to be elementary particles because they have no kn ...
—is far less than the binding energy of nucleons. For example, it requires only 13.6 eV to strip a
ground-state The ground state of a quantum-mechanical system is its stationary state of lowest energy; the energy of the ground state is known as the zero-point energy of the system. An excited state is any state with energy greater than the ground state. ...
electron from a hydrogen atom, compared to 2.23 ''million'' eV for splitting a
deuterium Deuterium (or hydrogen-2, symbol or deuterium, also known as heavy hydrogen) is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen (the other being protium, or hydrogen-1). The nucleus of a deuterium atom, called a deuteron, contains one proton and one ...
nucleus. Atoms are
electrically Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion of matter that has a property of electric charge. Electricity is related to magnetism, both being part of the phenomenon of electromagnetism, as described ...
neutral if they have an equal number of protons and electrons. Atoms that have either a deficit or a surplus of electrons are called
ion An ion () is an atom or molecule with a net electrical charge. The charge of an electron is considered to be negative by convention and this charge is equal and opposite to the charge of a proton, which is considered to be positive by conv ...
s. Electrons that are farthest from the nucleus may be transferred to other nearby atoms or shared between atoms. By this mechanism, atoms are able to
bond Bond or bonds may refer to: Common meanings * Bond (finance), a type of debt security * Bail bond, a commercial third-party guarantor of surety bonds in the United States * Chemical bond, the attraction of atoms, ions or molecules to form chemica ...
into molecules and other types of
chemical compound A chemical compound is a chemical substance composed of many identical molecules (or molecular entities) containing atoms from more than one chemical element held together by chemical bonds. A molecule consisting of atoms of only one elemen ...
s like ionic and
covalent A covalent bond is a chemical bond that involves the sharing of electrons to form electron pairs between atoms. These electron pairs are known as shared pairs or bonding pairs. The stable balance of attractive and repulsive forces between atom ...
network
crystals A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid material whose constituents (such as atoms, molecules, or ions) are arranged in a highly ordered microscopic structure, forming a crystal lattice that extends in all directions. In addition, macros ...
.

# Properties

## Nuclear properties

By definition, any two atoms with an identical number of ''protons'' in their nuclei belong to the same chemical element. Atoms with equal numbers of protons but a different number of ''neutrons'' are different isotopes of the same element. For example, all hydrogen atoms admit exactly one proton, but isotopes exist with no neutrons (
hydrogen-1 Hydrogen (1H) has three naturally occurring isotopes, sometimes denoted , , and . and are stable, while has a half-life of years. Heavier isotopes also exist, all of which are synthetic and have a half-life of less than one zeptosecond (10 ...
, by far the most common form, also called protium), one neutron (
deuterium Deuterium (or hydrogen-2, symbol or deuterium, also known as heavy hydrogen) is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen (the other being protium, or hydrogen-1). The nucleus of a deuterium atom, called a deuteron, contains one proton and one ...
), two neutrons (
tritium Tritium ( or , ) or hydrogen-3 (symbol T or H) is a rare and radioactive isotope of hydrogen with half-life about 12 years. The nucleus of tritium (t, sometimes called a ''triton'') contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of ...
) and more than two neutrons. The known elements form a set of atomic numbers, from the single-proton element
hydrogen Hydrogen is the chemical element with the symbol H and atomic number 1. Hydrogen is the lightest element. At standard conditions hydrogen is a gas of diatomic molecules having the formula . It is colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxi ...
up to the 118-proton element
oganesson Oganesson is a synthetic chemical element with the symbol Og and atomic number 118. It was first synthesized in 2002 at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) in Dubna, near Moscow, Russia, by a joint team of Russian and American sc ...
. All known isotopes of elements with atomic numbers greater than 82 are radioactive, although the radioactivity of element 83 (
bismuth Bismuth is a chemical element with the symbol Bi and atomic number 83. It is a post-transition metal and one of the pnictogens, with chemical properties resembling its lighter group 15 siblings arsenic and antimony. Elemental bismuth occurs ...
) is so slight as to be practically negligible. About 339 nuclides occur naturally on Earth, of which 251 (about 74%) have not been observed to decay, and are referred to as "
stable isotope The term stable isotope has a meaning similar to stable nuclide, but is preferably used when speaking of nuclides of a specific element. Hence, the plural form stable isotopes usually refers to isotopes of the same element. The relative abundan ...
s". Only 90 nuclides are stable theoretically, while another 161 (bringing the total to 251) have not been observed to decay, even though in theory it is energetically possible. These are also formally classified as "stable". An additional 35 radioactive nuclides have half-lives longer than 100 million years, and are long-lived enough to have been present since the birth of the Solar System. This collection of 286 nuclides are known as
primordial nuclide In geochemistry, geophysics and nuclear physics, primordial nuclides, also known as primordial isotopes, are nuclides found on Earth that have existed in their current form since before Earth was formed. Primordial nuclides were present in th ...
s. Finally, an additional 53 short-lived nuclides are known to occur naturally, as daughter products of primordial nuclide decay (such as
radium Radium is a chemical element with the symbol Ra and atomic number 88. It is the sixth element in group 2 of the periodic table, also known as the alkaline earth metals. Pure radium is silvery-white, but it readily reacts with nitrogen (ra ...
from
uranium Uranium is a chemical element with the symbol U and atomic number 92. It is a silvery-grey metal in the actinide series of the periodic table. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons. Uranium is weakly r ...
), or as products of natural energetic processes on Earth, such as cosmic ray bombardment (for example, carbon-14).For more recent updates see
Brookhaven National Laboratory Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory located in Upton, Long Island, and was formally established in 1947 at the site of Camp Upton, a former U.S. Army base and Japanese internment c ...
'
Interactive Chart of Nuclides
] .
For 80 of the chemical elements, at least one
stable isotope The term stable isotope has a meaning similar to stable nuclide, but is preferably used when speaking of nuclides of a specific element. Hence, the plural form stable isotopes usually refers to isotopes of the same element. The relative abundan ...
exists. As a rule, there is only a handful of stable isotopes for each of these elements, the average being 3.1 stable isotopes per element. Twenty-six "
monoisotopic element A monoisotopic element is an element which has only a single stable isotope (nuclide). There are only 26 elements that have this property. A list is given in a following section. Stability is experimentally defined for chemical elements, as ther ...
s" have only a single stable isotope, while the largest number of stable isotopes observed for any element is ten, for the element
tin Tin is a chemical element with the symbol Sn (from la, stannum) and atomic number 50. Tin is a silvery-coloured metal. Tin is soft enough to be cut with little force and a bar of tin can be bent by hand with little effort. When bent, ...
. Elements 43, 61, and all elements numbered 83 or higher have no stable isotopes.CRC Handbook (2002). Stability of isotopes is affected by the ratio of protons to neutrons, and also by the presence of certain "magic numbers" of neutrons or protons that represent closed and filled quantum shells. These quantum shells correspond to a set of energy levels within the shell model of the nucleus; filled shells, such as the filled shell of 50 protons for tin, confers unusual stability on the nuclide. Of the 251 known stable nuclides, only four have both an odd number of protons ''and'' odd number of neutrons: hydrogen-2 (
deuterium Deuterium (or hydrogen-2, symbol or deuterium, also known as heavy hydrogen) is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen (the other being protium, or hydrogen-1). The nucleus of a deuterium atom, called a deuteron, contains one proton and one ...
),
lithium-6 Naturally occurring lithium (3Li) is composed of two stable isotopes, lithium-6 and lithium-7, with the latter being far more abundant on Earth. Both of the natural isotopes have an unexpectedly low nuclear binding energy per nucleon ( for l ...
,
boron-10 Boron is a chemical element with the symbol B and atomic number 5. In its crystalline form it is a brittle, dark, lustrous metalloid; in its amorphous form it is a brown powder. As the lightest element of the ''boron group'' it has thr ...
, and
nitrogen-14 Natural nitrogen (7N) consists of two stable isotopes: the vast majority (99.6%) of naturally occurring nitrogen is nitrogen-14, with the remainder being nitrogen-15. Fourteen radioisotopes are also known, with atomic masses ranging from 10 to 25, ...
. (
Tantalum-180m Natural tantalum (73Ta) consists of two stable isotopes: 181Ta (99.988%) and (0.012%). There are also 35 known artificial radioisotopes, the longest-lived of which are 179Ta with a half-life of 1.82 years, 182Ta with a half-life of 114.43 days ...
is odd-odd and observationally stable, but is predicted to decay with a very long half-life.) Also, only four naturally occurring, radioactive odd-odd nuclides have a half-life over a billion years:
potassium-40 Potassium-40 (40K) is a radioactive isotope of potassium which has a long half-life of 1.25 billion years. It makes up about 0.012% (120 ppm) of the total amount of potassium found in nature. Potassium-40 undergoes three types of radioactiv ...
, vanadium-50, lanthanum-138, and lutetium-176. Most odd-odd nuclei are highly unstable with respect to
beta decay In nuclear physics, beta decay (β-decay) is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle (fast energetic electron or positron) is emitted from an atomic nucleus, transforming the original nuclide to an isobar of that nuclide. For exam ...
, because the decay products are even-even, and are therefore more strongly bound, due to nuclear pairing effects.

## Mass

The large majority of an atom's mass comes from the protons and neutrons that make it up. The total number of these particles (called "nucleons") in a given atom is called the
mass number The mass number (symbol ''A'', from the German word ''Atomgewicht'' tomic weight, also called atomic mass number or nucleon number, is the total number of protons and neutrons (together known as nucleons) in an atomic nucleus. It is approxi ...
. It is a positive integer and dimensionless (instead of having dimension of mass), because it expresses a count. An example of use of a mass number is "carbon-12," which has 12 nucleons (six protons and six neutrons). The actual mass of an atom at rest is often expressed in daltons (Da), also called the unified atomic mass unit (u). This unit is defined as a twelfth of the mass of a free neutral atom of
carbon-12 Carbon-12 (12C) is the most abundant of the two stable isotopes of carbon ( carbon-13 being the other), amounting to 98.93% of element carbon on Earth; its abundance is due to the triple-alpha process by which it is created in stars. Carbon-12 i ...
, which is approximately .
Hydrogen-1 Hydrogen (1H) has three naturally occurring isotopes, sometimes denoted , , and . and are stable, while has a half-life of years. Heavier isotopes also exist, all of which are synthetic and have a half-life of less than one zeptosecond (10 ...
(the lightest isotope of hydrogen which is also the nuclide with the lowest mass) has an atomic weight of 1.007825 Da. The value of this number is called the atomic mass. A given atom has an atomic mass approximately equal (within 1%) to its mass number times the atomic mass unit (for example the mass of a nitrogen-14 is roughly 14 Da), but this number will not be exactly an integer except (by definition) in the case of carbon-12. The heaviest stable atom is lead-208, with a mass of . As even the most massive atoms are far too light to work with directly, chemists instead use the unit of moles. One mole of atoms of any element always has the same number of atoms (about ). This number was chosen so that if an element has an atomic mass of 1 u, a mole of atoms of that element has a mass close to one gram. Because of the definition of the
unified atomic mass unit The dalton or unified atomic mass unit (symbols: Da or u) is a non-SI unit of mass widely used in physics and chemistry. It is defined as of the mass of an unbound neutral atom of carbon-12 in its nuclear and electronic ground state and at r ...
, each carbon-12 atom has an atomic mass of exactly 12 Da, and so a mole of carbon-12 atoms weighs exactly 0.012 kg.

## Shape and size

Atoms lack a well-defined outer boundary, so their dimensions are usually described in terms of an atomic radius. This is a measure of the distance out to which the electron cloud extends from the nucleus. This assumes the atom to exhibit a spherical shape, which is only obeyed for atoms in vacuum or free space. Atomic radii may be derived from the distances between two nuclei when the two atoms are joined in a
chemical bond A chemical bond is a lasting attraction between atoms or ions that enables the formation of molecules and crystals. The bond may result from the electrostatic force between oppositely charged ions as in ionic bonds, or through the sharing o ...
. The radius varies with the location of an atom on the atomic chart, the type of chemical bond, the number of neighboring atoms (
coordination number In chemistry, crystallography, and materials science, the coordination number, also called ligancy, of a central atom in a molecule or crystal is the number of atoms, molecules or ions bonded to it. The ion/molecule/atom surrounding the central io ...
) and a
quantum mechanical Quantum mechanics is a fundamental theory in physics that provides a description of the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. It is the foundation of all quantum physics including quantum chemistry, q ...
property known as
spin Spin or spinning most often refers to: * Spinning (textiles), the creation of yarn or thread by twisting fibers together, traditionally by hand spinning * Spin, the rotation of an object around a central axis * Spin (propaganda), an intentionally ...
. On the
periodic table The periodic table, also known as the periodic table of the (chemical) elements, is a rows and columns arrangement of the chemical elements. It is widely used in chemistry, physics, and other sciences, and is generally seen as an icon of ch ...
of the elements, atom size tends to increase when moving down columns, but decrease when moving across rows (left to right). Consequently, the smallest atom is helium with a radius of 32  pm, while one of the largest is
caesium Caesium ( IUPAC spelling) (or cesium in American English) is a chemical element with the symbol Cs and atomic number 55. It is a soft, silvery-golden alkali metal with a melting point of , which makes it one of only five elemental metals that ...
at 225 pm. When subjected to external forces, like
electrical field An electric field (sometimes E-field) is the physical field that surrounds electrically charged particles and exerts force on all other charged particles in the field, either attracting or repelling them. It also refers to the physical field f ...
s, the shape of an atom may deviate from spherical symmetry. The deformation depends on the field magnitude and the orbital type of outer shell electrons, as shown by group-theoretical considerations. Aspherical deviations might be elicited for instance in
crystal A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas, and plasma). The molecules in a solid are closely packed together and contain the least amount of kin ...
s, where large crystal-electrical fields may occur at low-symmetry lattice sites. Significant
ellipsoid An ellipsoid is a surface that may be obtained from a sphere by deforming it by means of directional scalings, or more generally, of an affine transformation. An ellipsoid is a quadric surface;  that is, a surface that may be defined as the ...
al deformations have been shown to occur for sulfur ions and
chalcogen The chalcogens (ore forming) ( ) are the chemical elements in group 16 of the periodic table. This group is also known as the oxygen family. Group 16 consists of the elements oxygen (O), sulfur (S), selenium (Se), tellurium (Te), and the radioac ...
ions in
pyrite The mineral pyrite (), or iron pyrite, also known as fool's gold, is an iron sulfide with the chemical formula Fe S2 (iron (II) disulfide). Pyrite is the most abundant sulfide mineral. Pyrite's metallic luster and pale brass-yellow hue ...
-type compounds. Atomic dimensions are thousands of times smaller than the wavelengths of
light Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation that can be perceived by the human eye. Visible light is usually defined as having wavelengths in the range of 400–700 nanometres (nm), corresponding to frequencies of 750–420 ter ...
(400–700  nm) so they cannot be viewed using an
optical microscope The optical microscope, also referred to as a light microscope, is a type of microscope that commonly uses visible light and a system of lenses to generate magnified images of small objects. Optical microscopes are the oldest design of microsco ...
, although individual atoms can be observed using a
scanning tunneling microscope A scanning tunneling microscope (STM) is a type of microscope used for imaging surfaces at the atomic level. Its development in 1981 earned its inventors, Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, then at IBM Zürich, the Nobel Prize in Physics in 19 ...
. To visualize the minuteness of the atom, consider that a typical human hair is about 1 million carbon atoms in width. A single drop of water contains about 2
sextillion Two naming scales for large numbers have been used in English and other European languages since the early modern era: the long and short scales. Most English variants use the short scale today, but the long scale remains dominant in many non-E ...
() atoms of oxygen, and twice the number of hydrogen atoms. A single carat
diamond Diamond is a solid form of the element carbon with its atoms arranged in a crystal structure called diamond cubic. Another solid form of carbon known as graphite is the chemically stable form of carbon at room temperature and pressure, b ...
with a mass of contains about 10 sextillion (1022) atoms of
carbon Carbon () is a chemical element with the symbol C and atomic number 6. It is nonmetallic and tetravalent—its atom making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds. It belongs to group 14 of the periodic table. Carbon m ...
.A carat is 200 milligrams. By definition, carbon-12 has 0.012 kg per mole. The
Avogadro constant The Avogadro constant, commonly denoted or , is the proportionality factor that relates the number of constituent particles (usually molecules, atoms or ions) in a sample with the amount of substance in that sample. It is an SI defining co ...
defines atoms per mole.
If an apple were magnified to the size of the Earth, then the atoms in the apple would be approximately the size of the original apple.

Every element has one or more isotopes that have unstable nuclei that are subject to radioactive decay, causing the nucleus to emit particles or electromagnetic radiation. Radioactivity can occur when the radius of a nucleus is large compared with the radius of the strong force, which only acts over distances on the order of 1 fm. The most common forms of radioactive decay are: * Alpha decay: this process is caused when the nucleus emits an alpha particle, which is a helium nucleus consisting of two protons and two neutrons. The result of the emission is a new element with a lower atomic number. *
Beta decay In nuclear physics, beta decay (β-decay) is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle (fast energetic electron or positron) is emitted from an atomic nucleus, transforming the original nuclide to an isobar of that nuclide. For exam ...
(and
electron capture Electron capture (K-electron capture, also K-capture, or L-electron capture, L-capture) is a process in which the proton-rich nucleus of an electrically neutral atom absorbs an inner atomic electron, usually from the K or L electron shells. Th ...
): these processes are regulated by the
weak force Weak may refer to: Songs * "Weak" (AJR song), 2016 * "Weak" (Melanie C song), 2011 * "Weak" (SWV song), 1993 * "Weak" (Skunk Anansie song), 1995 * "Weak", a song by Seether from '' Seether: 2002-2013'' Television episodes * "Weak" (''Fear t ...
, and result from a transformation of a neutron into a proton, or a proton into a neutron. The neutron to proton transition is accompanied by the emission of an electron and an
antineutrino A neutrino ( ; denoted by the Greek letter ) is a fermion (an elementary particle with spin of ) that interacts only via the weak interaction and gravity. The neutrino is so named because it is electrically neutral and because its rest mass i ...
, while proton to neutron transition (except in electron capture) causes the emission of a
positron The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle or the antimatter counterpart of the electron. It has an electric charge of +1 '' e'', a spin of 1/2 (the same as the electron), and the same mass as an electron. When a positron collide ...
and a
neutrino A neutrino ( ; denoted by the Greek letter ) is a fermion (an elementary particle with spin of ) that interacts only via the weak interaction and gravity. The neutrino is so named because it is electrically neutral and because its rest m ...
. The electron or positron emissions are called beta particles. Beta decay either increases or decreases the atomic number of the nucleus by one. Electron capture is more common than positron emission, because it requires less energy. In this type of decay, an electron is absorbed by the nucleus, rather than a positron emitted from the nucleus. A neutrino is still emitted in this process, and a proton changes to a neutron. * Gamma decay: this process results from a change in the energy level of the nucleus to a lower state, resulting in the emission of electromagnetic radiation. The excited state of a nucleus which results in gamma emission usually occurs following the emission of an alpha or a beta particle. Thus, gamma decay usually follows alpha or beta decay. Other more rare types of radioactive decay include ejection of neutrons or protons or clusters of
nucleon In physics and chemistry, a nucleon is either a proton or a neutron, considered in its role as a component of an atomic nucleus. The number of nucleons in a nucleus defines the atom's mass number (nucleon number). Until the 1960s, nucleons we ...
s from a nucleus, or more than one
beta particle A beta particle, also called beta ray or beta radiation (symbol β), is a high-energy, high-speed electron or positron emitted by the radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus during the process of beta decay. There are two forms of beta decay, β ...
. An analog of gamma emission which allows excited nuclei to lose energy in a different way, is
internal conversion Internal conversion is a non-radioactive, atomic decay process where an excited nucleus interacts electromagnetically with one of the orbital electrons of an atom. This causes the electron to be emitted (ejected) from the atom. Thus, in interna ...
—a process that produces high-speed electrons that are not beta rays, followed by production of high-energy photons that are not gamma rays. A few large nuclei explode into two or more charged fragments of varying masses plus several neutrons, in a decay called spontaneous
nuclear fission Nuclear fission is a reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into two or more smaller nuclei. The fission process often produces gamma photons, and releases a very large amount of energy even by the energetic standards of r ...
. Each
radioactive isotope A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is a nuclide that has excess nuclear energy, making it unstable. This excess energy can be used in one of three ways: emitted from the nucleus as gamma radiation; transfer ...
has a characteristic decay time period—the
half-life Half-life (symbol ) is the time required for a quantity (of substance) to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics to describe how quickly unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay or how long stable a ...
—that is determined by the amount of time needed for half of a sample to decay. This is an
exponential decay A quantity is subject to exponential decay if it decreases at a rate proportional to its current value. Symbolically, this process can be expressed by the following differential equation, where is the quantity and ( lambda) is a positive ra ...
process that steadily decreases the proportion of the remaining isotope by 50% every half-life. Hence after two half-lives have passed only 25% of the isotope is present, and so forth.

## Magnetic moment

Elementary particles possess an intrinsic quantum mechanical property known as
spin Spin or spinning most often refers to: * Spinning (textiles), the creation of yarn or thread by twisting fibers together, traditionally by hand spinning * Spin, the rotation of an object around a central axis * Spin (propaganda), an intentionally ...
. This is analogous to the angular momentum of an object that is spinning around its
center of mass In physics, the center of mass of a distribution of mass in space (sometimes referred to as the balance point) is the unique point where the weighted relative position of the distributed mass sums to zero. This is the point to which a force m ...
, although strictly speaking these particles are believed to be point-like and cannot be said to be rotating. Spin is measured in units of the reduced
Planck constant The Planck constant, or Planck's constant, is a fundamental physical constant of foundational importance in quantum mechanics. The constant gives the relationship between the energy of a photon and its frequency, and by the mass-energy equivale ...
(ħ), with electrons, protons and neutrons all having spin  ħ, or "spin-". In an atom, electrons in motion around the
nucleus Nucleus ( : nuclei) is a Latin word for the seed inside a fruit. It most often refers to: *Atomic nucleus, the very dense central region of an atom *Cell nucleus, a central organelle of a eukaryotic cell, containing most of the cell's DNA Nucle ...
possess orbital angular momentum in addition to their spin, while the nucleus itself possesses angular momentum due to its nuclear spin. The
magnetic field A magnetic field is a vector field that describes the magnetic influence on moving electric charges, electric currents, and magnetic materials. A moving charge in a magnetic field experiences a force perpendicular to its own velocity and t ...
produced by an atom—its
magnetic moment In electromagnetism, the magnetic moment is the magnetic strength and orientation of a magnet or other object that produces a magnetic field. Examples of objects that have magnetic moments include loops of electric current (such as electromagnets ...
—is determined by these various forms of angular momentum, just as a rotating charged object classically produces a magnetic field, but the most dominant contribution comes from electron spin. Due to the nature of electrons to obey the
Pauli exclusion principle In quantum mechanics, the Pauli exclusion principle states that two or more identical particles with half-integer spins (i.e. fermions) cannot occupy the same quantum state within a quantum system simultaneously. This principle was formula ...
, in which no two electrons may be found in the same
quantum state In quantum physics, a quantum state is a mathematical entity that provides a probability distribution for the outcomes of each possible measurement on a system. Knowledge of the quantum state together with the rules for the system's evolution i ...
, bound electrons pair up with each other, with one member of each pair in a spin up state and the other in the opposite, spin down state. Thus these spins cancel each other out, reducing the total magnetic dipole moment to zero in some atoms with even number of electrons. In
ferromagnetic Ferromagnetism is a property of certain materials (such as iron) which results in a large observed magnetic permeability, and in many cases a large magnetic coercivity allowing the material to form a permanent magnet. Ferromagnetic materials ...
elements such as iron, cobalt and nickel, an odd number of electrons leads to an unpaired electron and a net overall magnetic moment. The orbitals of neighboring atoms overlap and a lower energy state is achieved when the spins of unpaired electrons are aligned with each other, a spontaneous process known as an
exchange interaction In chemistry and physics, the exchange interaction (with an exchange energy and exchange term) is a quantum mechanical effect that only occurs between identical particles. Despite sometimes being called an exchange force in an analogy to classica ...
. When the magnetic moments of ferromagnetic atoms are lined up, the material can produce a measurable macroscopic field. Paramagnetic materials have atoms with magnetic moments that line up in random directions when no magnetic field is present, but the magnetic moments of the individual atoms line up in the presence of a field. The nucleus of an atom will have no spin when it has even numbers of both neutrons and protons, but for other cases of odd numbers, the nucleus may have a spin. Normally nuclei with spin are aligned in random directions because of
thermal equilibrium Two physical systems are in thermal equilibrium if there is no net flow of thermal energy between them when they are connected by a path permeable to heat. Thermal equilibrium obeys the zeroth law of thermodynamics. A system is said to be i ...
, but for certain elements (such as xenon-129) it is possible to polarize a significant proportion of the nuclear spin states so that they are aligned in the same direction—a condition called hyperpolarization. This has important applications in
magnetic resonance imaging Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to form pictures of the anatomy and the physiological processes of the body. MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields, magnetic field gradients, and radio wav ...
.

## Energy levels

The
potential energy In physics, potential energy is the energy held by an object because of its position relative to other objects, stresses within itself, its electric charge, or other factors. Common types of potential energy include the gravitational potenti ...
of an electron in an atom is negative relative to when the
distance Distance is a numerical or occasionally qualitative measurement of how far apart objects or points are. In physics or everyday usage, distance may refer to a physical length or an estimation based on other criteria (e.g. "two counties over"). ...
from the nucleus goes to infinity; its dependence on the electron's
position Position often refers to: * Position (geometry), the spatial location (rather than orientation) of an entity * Position, a job or occupation Position may also refer to: Games and recreation * Position (poker), location relative to the dealer * ...
reaches the
minimum In mathematical analysis, the maxima and minima (the respective plurals of maximum and minimum) of a function, known collectively as extrema (the plural of extremum), are the largest and smallest value of the function, either within a given r ...
inside the nucleus, roughly in inverse proportion to the distance. In the quantum-mechanical model, a bound electron can occupy only a set of states centered on the nucleus, and each state corresponds to a specific
energy level A quantum mechanical system or particle that is bound—that is, confined spatially—can only take on certain discrete values of energy, called energy levels. This contrasts with classical particles, which can have any amount of energy. The ...
; see time-independent Schrödinger equation for a theoretical explanation. An energy level can be measured by the amount of energy needed to unbind the electron from the atom, and is usually given in units of electronvolts (eV). The lowest energy state of a bound electron is called the ground state, i.e. stationary state, while an electron transition to a higher level results in an excited state. The electron's energy increases along with ''n'' because the (average) distance to the nucleus increases. Dependence of the energy on is caused not by the
electrostatic potential Electrostatics is a branch of physics that studies electric charges at rest ( static electricity). Since classical times, it has been known that some materials, such as amber, attract lightweight particles after rubbing. The Greek word for ...
of the nucleus, but by interaction between electrons. For an electron to transition between two different states, e.g.
ground state The ground state of a quantum-mechanical system is its stationary state of lowest energy; the energy of the ground state is known as the zero-point energy of the system. An excited state is any state with energy greater than the ground state ...
to first
excited state In quantum mechanics, an excited state of a system (such as an atom, molecule or nucleus) is any quantum state of the system that has a higher energy than the ground state (that is, more energy than the absolute minimum). Excitation refers ...
, it must absorb or emit a
photon A photon () is an elementary particle that is a quantum of the electromagnetic field, including electromagnetic radiation such as light and radio waves, and the force carrier for the electromagnetic force. Photons are massless, so they always m ...
at an energy matching the difference in the potential energy of those levels, according to the
Niels Bohr Niels Henrik David Bohr (; 7 October 1885 – 18 November 1962) was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922 ...
model, what can be precisely calculated by the
Schrödinger equation The Schrödinger equation is a linear partial differential equation that governs the wave function of a quantum-mechanical system. It is a key result in quantum mechanics, and its discovery was a significant landmark in the development of the ...
. Electrons jump between orbitals in a particle-like fashion. For example, if a single photon strikes the electrons, only a single electron changes states in response to the photon; see Electron properties. The energy of an emitted photon is proportional to its frequency, so these specific energy levels appear as distinct bands in the
electromagnetic spectrum The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of frequencies (the spectrum) of electromagnetic radiation and their respective wavelengths and photon energies. The electromagnetic spectrum covers electromagnetic waves with frequencies ranging from ...
. Each element has a characteristic spectrum that can depend on the nuclear charge, subshells filled by electrons, the electromagnetic interactions between the electrons and other factors. When a continuous spectrum of energy is passed through a gas or plasma, some of the photons are absorbed by atoms, causing electrons to change their energy level. Those excited electrons that remain bound to their atom spontaneously emit this energy as a photon, traveling in a random direction, and so drop back to lower energy levels. Thus the atoms behave like a filter that forms a series of dark absorption bands in the energy output. (An observer viewing the atoms from a view that does not include the continuous spectrum in the background, instead sees a series of
emission line A spectral line is a dark or bright line in an otherwise uniform and continuous spectrum, resulting from emission or absorption of light in a narrow frequency range, compared with the nearby frequencies. Spectral lines are often used to iden ...
s from the photons emitted by the atoms.) Spectroscopic measurements of the strength and width of
atomic spectral line Spectroscopy is the field of study that measures and interprets the electromagnetic spectra that result from the interaction between electromagnetic radiation and matter as a function of the wavelength or frequency of the radiation. Matter wa ...
s allow the composition and physical properties of a substance to be determined. Close examination of the spectral lines reveals that some display a
fine structure In atomic physics, the fine structure describes the splitting of the spectral lines of atoms due to electron spin and relativistic corrections to the non-relativistic Schrödinger equation. It was first measured precisely for the hydrogen atom b ...
splitting. This occurs because of spin–orbit coupling, which is an interaction between the spin and motion of the outermost electron. When an atom is in an external magnetic field, spectral lines become split into three or more components; a phenomenon called the
Zeeman effect The Zeeman effect (; ) is the effect of splitting of a spectral line into several components in the presence of a static magnetic field. It is named after the Dutch physicist Pieter Zeeman, who discovered it in 1896 and received a Nobel pri ...
. This is caused by the interaction of the magnetic field with the magnetic moment of the atom and its electrons. Some atoms can have multiple
electron configuration In atomic physics and quantum chemistry, the electron configuration is the distribution of electrons of an atom or molecule (or other physical structure) in atomic or molecular orbitals. For example, the electron configuration of the neon ato ...
s with the same energy level, which thus appear as a single spectral line. The interaction of the magnetic field with the atom shifts these electron configurations to slightly different energy levels, resulting in multiple spectral lines. The presence of an external
electric field An electric field (sometimes E-field) is the physical field that surrounds electrically charged particles and exerts force on all other charged particles in the field, either attracting or repelling them. It also refers to the physical field ...
can cause a comparable splitting and shifting of spectral lines by modifying the electron energy levels, a phenomenon called the
Stark effect The Stark effect is the shifting and splitting of spectral lines of atoms and molecules due to the presence of an external electric field. It is the electric-field analogue of the Zeeman effect, where a spectral line is split into several compone ...
. If a bound electron is in an excited state, an interacting photon with the proper energy can cause
stimulated emission Stimulated emission is the process by which an incoming photon of a specific frequency can interact with an excited atomic electron (or other excited molecular state), causing it to drop to a lower energy level. The liberated energy transfers to th ...
of a photon with a matching energy level. For this to occur, the electron must drop to a lower energy state that has an energy difference matching the energy of the interacting photon. The emitted photon and the interacting photon then move off in parallel and with matching phases. That is, the wave patterns of the two photons are synchronized. This physical property is used to make
laser A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. The word "laser" is an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation". The ...
s, which can emit a coherent beam of light energy in a narrow frequency band.

## Valence and bonding behavior

Valency is the combining power of an element. It is determined by the number of bonds it can form to other atoms or groups. The outermost electron shell of an atom in its uncombined state is known as the valence shell, and the electrons in that shell are called valence electrons. The number of valence electrons determines the chemical bond, bonding behavior with other atoms. Atoms tend to Chemical reaction, chemically react with each other in a manner that fills (or empties) their outer valence shells. For example, a transfer of a single electron between atoms is a useful approximation for bonds that form between atoms with one-electron more than a filled shell, and others that are one-electron short of a full shell, such as occurs in the compound sodium chloride and other chemical ionic salts. Many elements display multiple valences, or tendencies to share differing numbers of electrons in different compounds. Thus,
chemical bond A chemical bond is a lasting attraction between atoms or ions that enables the formation of molecules and crystals. The bond may result from the electrostatic force between oppositely charged ions as in ionic bonds, or through the sharing o ...
ing between these elements takes many forms of electron-sharing that are more than simple electron transfers. Examples include the element carbon and the organic compounds. The chemical elements are often displayed in a
periodic table The periodic table, also known as the periodic table of the (chemical) elements, is a rows and columns arrangement of the chemical elements. It is widely used in chemistry, physics, and other sciences, and is generally seen as an icon of ch ...
that is laid out to display recurring chemical properties, and elements with the same number of valence electrons form a group that is aligned in the same column of the table. (The horizontal rows correspond to the filling of a quantum shell of electrons.) The elements at the far right of the table have their outer shell completely filled with electrons, which results in chemically inert elements known as the noble gases.

## States

Quantities of atoms are found in different states of matter that depend on the physical conditions, such as temperature and pressure. By varying the conditions, materials can transition between
solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas, and plasma). The molecules in a solid are closely packed together and contain the least amount of kinetic energy. A solid is characterized by structura ...
s,
liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible fluid that conforms to the shape of its container but retains a (nearly) constant volume independent of pressure. As such, it is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being solid, gas, a ...
s,
gas Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being solid, liquid, and plasma). A pure gas may be made up of individual atoms (e.g. a noble gas like neon), elemental molecules made from one type of atom (e.g. oxygen), or ...
es and plasma (physics), plasmas. Within a state, a material can also exist in different allotropes. An example of this is solid carbon, which can exist as graphite or
diamond Diamond is a solid form of the element carbon with its atoms arranged in a crystal structure called diamond cubic. Another solid form of carbon known as graphite is the chemically stable form of carbon at room temperature and pressure, b ...
. Gaseous allotropes exist as well, such as dioxygen and ozone. At temperatures close to absolute zero, atoms can form a Bose–Einstein condensate, at which point quantum mechanical effects, which are normally only observed at the atomic scale, become apparent on a macroscopic scale. This super-cooled collection of atoms then behaves as a single super atom, which may allow fundamental checks of quantum mechanical behavior.

# Identification

While atoms are too small to be seen, devices such as the
scanning tunneling microscope A scanning tunneling microscope (STM) is a type of microscope used for imaging surfaces at the atomic level. Its development in 1981 earned its inventors, Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, then at IBM Zürich, the Nobel Prize in Physics in 19 ...
(STM) enable their visualization at the surfaces of solids. The microscope uses the quantum tunneling phenomenon, which allows particles to pass through a barrier that would be insurmountable in the classical perspective. Electrons tunnel through the vacuum between two Biasing, biased electrodes, providing a tunneling current that is exponentially dependent on their separation. One electrode is a sharp tip ideally ending with a single atom. At each point of the scan of the surface the tip's height is adjusted so as to keep the tunneling current at a set value. How much the tip moves to and away from the surface is interpreted as the height profile. For low bias, the microscope images the averaged electron orbitals across closely packed energy levels—the local density of states, density of the electronic states near the Fermi level. Because of the distances involved, both electrodes need to be extremely stable; only then periodicities can be observed that correspond to individual atoms. The method alone is not chemically specific, and cannot identify the atomic species present at the surface. Atoms can be easily identified by their mass. If an atom is
ion An ion () is an atom or molecule with a net electrical charge. The charge of an electron is considered to be negative by convention and this charge is equal and opposite to the charge of a proton, which is considered to be positive by conv ...
ized by removing one of its electrons, its trajectory when it passes through a
magnetic field A magnetic field is a vector field that describes the magnetic influence on moving electric charges, electric currents, and magnetic materials. A moving charge in a magnetic field experiences a force perpendicular to its own velocity and t ...
will bend. The radius by which the trajectory of a moving ion is turned by the magnetic field is determined by the mass of the atom. The Mass spectrometry, mass spectrometer uses this principle to measure the mass-to-charge ratio of ions. If a sample contains multiple isotopes, the mass spectrometer can determine the proportion of each isotope in the sample by measuring the intensity of the different beams of ions. Techniques to vaporize atoms include inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, both of which use a plasma to vaporize samples for analysis. The atom probe, atom-probe tomograph has sub-nanometer resolution in 3-D and can chemically identify individual atoms using time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Electron emission techniques such as X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and Auger electron spectroscopy (AES), which measure the binding energies of the core electrons, are used to identify the atomic species present in a sample in a non-destructive way. With proper focusing both can be made area-specific. Another such method is electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS), which measures the energy loss of an electron beam within a transmission electron microscope when it interacts with a portion of a sample. Spectra of
excited state In quantum mechanics, an excited state of a system (such as an atom, molecule or nucleus) is any quantum state of the system that has a higher energy than the ground state (that is, more energy than the absolute minimum). Excitation refers ...
s can be used to analyze the atomic composition of distant
star A star is an astronomical object comprising a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by its gravity. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many other stars are visible to the naked eye at night, but their immense distances from Eart ...
s. Specific light wavelengths contained in the observed light from stars can be separated out and related to the quantized transitions in free gas atoms. These colors can be replicated using a gas-discharge lamp containing the same element. Helium was discovered in this way in the spectrum of the Sun 23 years before it was found on Earth.

# Origin and current state

Baryonic matter forms about 4% of the total energy density of the observable universe, with an average density of about 0.25 particles/m3 (mostly
proton A proton is a stable subatomic particle, symbol , H+, or 1H+ with a positive electric charge of +1 ''e'' elementary charge. Its mass is slightly less than that of a neutron and 1,836 times the mass of an electron (the proton–electron mas ...
s and electrons). Within a galaxy such as the Milky Way, particles have a much higher concentration, with the density of matter in the interstellar medium (ISM) ranging from 105 to 109 atoms/m3. The Sun is believed to be inside the Local Bubble, so the density in the solar neighborhood is only about 103 atoms/m3. Stars form from dense clouds in the ISM, and the evolutionary processes of stars result in the steady enrichment of the ISM with elements more massive than hydrogen and helium. Up to 95% of the Milky Way's baryonic matter are concentrated inside stars, where conditions are unfavorable for atomic matter. The total baryonic mass is about 10% of the mass of the galaxy; the remainder of the mass is an unknown dark matter. High temperature inside stars makes most "atoms" fully ionized, that is, separates ''all'' electrons from the nuclei. In stellar remnants—with exception of their surface layers—an immense pressure make electron shells impossible.

## Formation

Electrons are thought to exist in the Universe since early stages of the Big Bang. Atomic nuclei forms in nucleosynthesis reactions. In about three minutes Big Bang nucleosynthesis produced most of the helium, lithium, and
deuterium Deuterium (or hydrogen-2, symbol or deuterium, also known as heavy hydrogen) is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen (the other being protium, or hydrogen-1). The nucleus of a deuterium atom, called a deuteron, contains one proton and one ...
in the Universe, and perhaps some of the beryllium and boron. Ubiquitousness and stability of atoms relies on their
binding energy In physics and chemistry, binding energy is the smallest amount of energy required to remove a particle from a system of particles or to disassemble a system of particles into individual parts. In the former meaning the term is predominantly use ...
, which means that an atom has a lower energy than an unbound system of the nucleus and electrons. Where the temperature is much higher than ionization potential, the matter exists in the form of plasma—a gas of positively charged ions (possibly, bare nuclei) and electrons. When the temperature drops below the ionization potential, atoms become statistical physics, statistically favorable. Atoms (complete with bound electrons) became to dominate over electric charge, charged particles 380,000 years after the Big Bang—an epoch called recombination (cosmology), recombination, when the expanding Universe cooled enough to allow electrons to become attached to nuclei. Since the Big Bang, which produced no
carbon Carbon () is a chemical element with the symbol C and atomic number 6. It is nonmetallic and tetravalent—its atom making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds. It belongs to group 14 of the periodic table. Carbon m ...
or atomic number, heavier elements, atomic nuclei have been combined in
star A star is an astronomical object comprising a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by its gravity. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many other stars are visible to the naked eye at night, but their immense distances from Eart ...
s through the process of nuclear fusion to produce more of the element helium, and (via the triple alpha process) the sequence of elements from carbon up to
iron Iron () is a chemical element with symbol Fe (from la, ferrum) and atomic number 26. It is a metal that belongs to the first transition series and group 8 of the periodic table. It is, by mass, the most common element on Earth, right in fr ...
; see stellar nucleosynthesis for details. Isotopes such as lithium-6, as well as some beryllium and boron are generated in space through cosmic ray spallation. This occurs when a high-energy proton strikes an atomic nucleus, causing large numbers of nucleons to be ejected. Elements heavier than iron were produced in supernovae and colliding neutron stars through the r-process, and in Asymptotic giant branch, AGB stars through the s-process, both of which involve the capture of neutrons by atomic nuclei. Elements such as lead formed largely through the radioactive decay of heavier elements.

## Earth

Most of the atoms that make up the Earth and its inhabitants were present in their current form in the nebula that collapsed out of a molecular cloud to form the Solar System. The rest are the result of radioactive decay, and their relative proportion can be used to determine the age of the Earth through radiometric dating.#refManuel2001, Manuel (2001). ''Origin of Elements in the Solar System'', pp. 407-430, 511-519 Most of the helium in the crust of the Earth (about 99% of the helium from gas wells, as shown by its lower abundance of helium-3) is a product of alpha decay. There are a few trace atoms on Earth that were not present at the beginning (i.e., not "primordial"), nor are results of radioactive decay. Carbon-14 is continuously generated by cosmic rays in the atmosphere. Some atoms on Earth have been artificially generated either deliberately or as by-products of nuclear reactors or explosions. Of the Transuranium element, transuranic elements—those with atomic numbers greater than 92—only plutonium and neptunium occur naturally on Earth. Transuranic elements have radioactive lifetimes shorter than the current age of the Earth and thus identifiable quantities of these elements have long since decayed, with the exception of traces of plutonium-244 possibly deposited by cosmic dust. Natural deposits of plutonium and neptunium are produced by neutron capture in uranium ore. The Earth contains approximately atoms. Although small numbers of independent atoms of noble gases exist, such as argon, neon, and helium, 99% of Earth's atmosphere, the atmosphere is bound in the form of molecules, including carbon dioxide and Diatomic molecule, diatomic
oxygen Oxygen is the chemical element with the symbol O and atomic number 8. It is a member of the chalcogen group in the periodic table, a highly reactive nonmetal, and an oxidizing agent that readily forms oxides with most elements as well a ...
and nitrogen. At the surface of the Earth, an overwhelming majority of atoms combine to form various compounds, including water, salt, silicates and oxides. Atoms can also combine to create materials that do not consist of discrete molecules, including
crystal A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas, and plasma). The molecules in a solid are closely packed together and contain the least amount of kin ...
s and liquid or solid metals. This atomic matter forms networked arrangements that lack the particular type of small-scale interrupted order associated with molecular matter.

## Rare and theoretical forms

### Superheavy elements

All nuclides with atomic numbers higher than 82 (lead) are known to be radioactive. No nuclide with an atomic number exceeding 92 (
uranium Uranium is a chemical element with the symbol U and atomic number 92. It is a silvery-grey metal in the actinide series of the periodic table. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons. Uranium is weakly r ...
) exists on Earth as a
primordial nuclide In geochemistry, geophysics and nuclear physics, primordial nuclides, also known as primordial isotopes, are nuclides found on Earth that have existed in their current form since before Earth was formed. Primordial nuclides were present in th ...
, and heavier elements generally have shorter half-lives. Nevertheless, an "island of stability" encompassing relatively long-lived isotopes of superheavy elements with atomic numbers darmstadtium, 110 to flerovium, 114 might exist. Predictions for the half-life of the most stable nuclide on the island range from a few minutes to millions of years. In any case, superheavy elements (with ''Z'' > 104) would not exist due to increasing Coulomb repulsion (which results in spontaneous fission with increasingly short half-lives) in the absence of any stabilizing effects.

### Exotic matter

Each particle of matter has a corresponding antimatter particle with the opposite electrical charge. Thus, the
positron The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle or the antimatter counterpart of the electron. It has an electric charge of +1 '' e'', a spin of 1/2 (the same as the electron), and the same mass as an electron. When a positron collide ...
is a positively charged antielectron and the antiproton is a negatively charged equivalent of a
proton A proton is a stable subatomic particle, symbol , H+, or 1H+ with a positive electric charge of +1 ''e'' elementary charge. Its mass is slightly less than that of a neutron and 1,836 times the mass of an electron (the proton–electron mas ...
. When a matter and corresponding antimatter particle meet, they annihilate each other. Because of this, along with an imbalance between the number of matter and antimatter particles, the latter are rare in the universe. The first causes of this imbalance are not yet fully understood, although theories of baryogenesis may offer an explanation. As a result, no antimatter atoms have been discovered in nature. In 1996, the antimatter counterpart of the hydrogen atom (antihydrogen) was synthesized at the CERN laboratory in Geneva. Other exotic atoms have been created by replacing one of the protons, neutrons or electrons with other particles that have the same charge. For example, an electron can be replaced by a more massive muon, forming a muonic atom. These types of atoms can be used to test fundamental predictions of physics.

* * * * * * * *