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Atom

Key Stage 3

Meaning

An atom is a very small particle made of protons, neutrons and electrons that can join with other atoms to make molecules.

Singular Noun: Atom
Plural Noun: Atoms
Adjective: Atomic

About Atoms in The Dalton Model

In The Dalton Model atoms are shown as ball shaped particles. This makes it easier to draw diagrams of molecules.
DaltonModelAtom.png
A picture of The Dalton Model of an atom.

About Atoms beyond The Dalton Model

Atoms are made of three smaller particles; the proton, neutron and electron.
Protons and neutrons are found in the nucleus at the centre of an atom. Electrons are found orbiting the nucleus in 'shells'.
AtomDiagram.png
A diagram of an atom.
In an atom the number of electrons is always the same as the number of protons in the nucleus.
Different atoms can have different numbers of protons and neutrons.
The simplest atom is Hydrogen which has 1 proton and 1 electron and no neutrons.

Key Stage 4

Meaning

An atom is a very small particle made of protons, neutrons and electrons that can join with other atoms to make molecules.

About Atoms

Atoms consist of a small, central nucleus containing protons and neutrons surrounded by electrons orbiting the nucleus.
The electrons orbit the nucleus in so called 'electron shells'.
Atoms range in size from a diameter of around 1x10-10m (0.1 nanometres) to 5x10-10m (0.5 nanometres), while the nucleus has a diameter of around 1.75x10-15m (1.75 femtometres) to 15x10-15m (15 femtometres). This means the nucleus is 100,000 times smaller than the atom.
Since molecules are made of multiple atoms they can range from 0.2 nanometres to several millimetres long for long polymer chains.
AtomDiagram.png
A diagram of an atom.
In an atom there is always the same number of protons as electrons. If any electron is added or removed the atom becomes an ion.
Atoms can be different elements depending on the number of protons.
Hydrogen Helium Lithium Beryllium
Hydrogen.png
Helium.png
Lithium.png
Beryllium.png
HydrogenSymbol.png
HeliumSymbol.png
LithiumSymbol.png
BerylliumSymbol.png
Hydrogen always has 1 proton. Helium always has 2 protons. Lithium always has 3 protons. Beryllium always has 4 protons.
Atoms of the same element can have different numbers of neutrons so they can be different isotopes of the same element.
Hydrogen-1 Hydrogen-2 Lithium-7 Lithium-6
Hydrogen.png
Deuterium.png
Lithium.png
Lithium6.png
HydrogenSymbol.png
DeuteriumSymbol.png
LithiumSymbol.png
Lithium6Symbol.png
Hydrogen always has 1 proton but in this case has no neutrons. Hydrogen always has 1 proton but in this case also has a neutron. This isotope of Hydrogen is known as Deuterium. Lithium always has 3 protons but in this case has 4 neutrons. Lithium always has 3 protons but in this case has 3 neutrons.

Properties of the Subatomic Particles

The particles that make an atom all have slightly different properties. Since the particles are so small their mass and charge are extremely small numbers so, to make it easier, they are represented as 'relative' mass and 'relative' charge compared to a proton.
SubatomicParticleProperties.png
A table showing the relative mass and relative charge of the proton, neutron and electron.

History of Atoms

Discovery of Atoms

The existence and structure of atoms was not always known.
An ancient Greek philosopher called Democratus first proposed that matter was made of atoms. He reasoned that if you keep cutting something in half eventually you will reach part of it which cannot be cut into smaller piece. The ancient Greek word for 'uncuttable' was atom.

Dalton Model of the Atom

It wasn't until the early 1800s that there was an evidence based theory of the existence of an atom. It was proposed by John Dalton who suggested atoms were small spherical objects.
John Dalton had his theory backed up by the discoveries of Robert Brown who discovered Brownian Motion showing that small invisible particles were responsible for the apparent random motion of small visible particles such as pollen.

Plum Pudding Model of the Atom

In 1897 J.J. Thompson discovered that there was a particle smaller than an atom which he named the electron after another scientist had hypothesised their existence. The electron was found to be around 2000 times less massive than a Hydrogen atom. It was later realised that these electrons were responsible for electrical current in metals.
This led him, in 1904, to propose the Plum Pudding Model of the atom in which atoms were believed to be a solid ball of positive charge with electrons stuck inside to give an overall neutral charge to the atom.

Nuclear Model of the Atom

In 1909 Ernest Rutherford set two students to work on an experiment to probe the structure of the atom in the hope to determine if the Plum Pudding Model was correct.
Rutherford's students Ernest Marsden and Hans Geiger fired alpha particles, which are positively charged, at a very thin sheet of Gold foil to observe how the alpha particles changed direction as they went through the foil. This was known as Rutherford's Alpha Scattering Experiment.
They discovered that most of the alpha particles went through in a straight line. A significant number were deflected and a very small number bounced off the Gold back towards the alpha source.
If the Plum Pudding Model were correct then nearly all of the alpha particles should have passed straight through, unaffected, since the alpha particle is positively charged while atoms should have an even spread of charged particles all the way through them. There should have been no electrostatic force to change their direction.
This showed that the atom must be mostly empty space, that most of the mass of an atom is concentrated in the centre and that the centre is positively charged. This gave Rutherford evidence to develop a new model of the atom which he proposed in 1911 called the Nuclear Model in which a very small positively charged nucleus is surrounded by orbiting electrons.

The Bohr Model of the Atom

In 1913 Neils Bohr added to the Nuclear Model when he proposed that electrons could only orbit the nucleus in specific electron orbitals or 'shells' creating the Bohr Model of the atom.

The Addition of the Proton

In 1919 Ernest Rutherford determined that the Hydrogen nucleus was present in all atomic nuclei. This introduced the proton to the model of the atom.

The Addition of the Neutron

In 1932 James Chadwick discovered a neutral subatomic particle which he named a Neutron. This neutron explained the existence of isotopes and completed the model of the atom studied at GCSE.

The Electron Cloud

NB: You don't need to know this The model of the atom was soon updated by Werner Heisenberg who determined that the exact position and velocity of electrons could not be known and so they do not 'orbit', rather they exist in a cloud of probable locations around the nucleus.

Extra Information

References

AQA

Atom, pages 12-4, 16-7, 20-25, 72, 106, GCSE Chemistry; Student Book, Collins, AQA
Atom, pages 90, 100, 108-9, 132-3, GCSE Physics; Student Book, Collins, AQA
Atomic models, page 43, GCSE Physics; The Revision Guide, CGP, AQA
Atomic models, pages 96, 104, 197, GCSE Combined Science; The Revision Guide, CGP, AQA
Atomic structure, page 2-3, GCSE Chemistry, Hodder, AQA
Atomic structure, pages 117-18, 338, GCSE Combined Science Trilogy 1, Hodder, AQA
Atomic structure, pages 4-21, GCSE Chemistry; Third Edition, Oxford University Press, AQA
Atomic structure; bohr model, page 342, GCSE Combined Science Trilogy 1, Hodder, AQA
Atomic structure; development of ideas about, pages 123-4, GCSE Combined Science Trilogy 1, Hodder, AQA
Atomic structure; development of ideas, pages 7-8, GCSE Chemistry, Hodder, AQA
Atomic structure; electronic structure, page 121, GCSE Combined Science Trilogy 1, Hodder, AQA
Atoms, page 88, GCSE Physics, Hodder, AQA
Atoms, pages 12-14, 19, GCSE Chemistry; The Revision Guide, CGP, AQA
Atoms, pages 22-25, 42-45, 70, 71, GCSE Combined Science Trilogy; Chemistry, CGP, AQA
Atoms, pages 22-25, 42-45, 72, 73, GCSE Chemistry, CGP, AQA
Atoms, pages 4-5, 12-19, GCSE Chemistry; Third Edition, Oxford University Press, AQA
Atoms, pages 50, 92-101, 104-109, GCSE Physics; Third Edition, Oxford University Press, AQA
Atoms, pages 96-98, 104, 197-199, GCSE Combined Science; The Revision Guide, CGP, AQA
Atoms; and ions, page 89, GCSE Physics, Hodder, AQA
Atoms; Bohr model of, page 92, GCSE Physics, Hodder, AQA
Atoms; discovery of the nucleus, pages 91-2, GCSE Physics, Hodder, AQA
Atoms; energy levels, page 123, GCSE Physics; The Complete 9-1 Course for AQA, CGP, AQA
Atoms; energy levels, pages 111, 201, GCSE Combined Science Trilogy; Physics, CGP, AQA
Atoms; history, pages 108, 109, GCSE Combined Science Trilogy; Physics, CGP, AQA
Atoms; history, pages 120, 121, GCSE Physics; The Complete 9-1 Course for AQA, CGP, AQA
Atoms; isotopes, page 90, GCSE Physics, Hodder, AQA
Atoms; nuclear model of, pages 91-2, GCSE Physics, Hodder, AQA
Atoms; plum-pudding model of, pages 85, 91, GCSE Physics, Hodder, AQA
Atoms; producing EM radiation, page 201, GCSE Combined Science Trilogy; Physics, CGP, AQA
Atoms; producing EM radiation, page 243, GCSE Physics; The Complete 9-1 Course for AQA, CGP, AQA
Atoms; structure, pages 110, 111, GCSE Combined Science Trilogy; Physics, CGP, AQA
Atoms; structure, pages 122, 123, GCSE Physics; The Complete 9-1 Course for AQA, CGP, AQA

Edexcel

Atomic models, pages 354-355, GCSE Combined Science, Pearson Edexcel
Atomic models, pages 90-91, GCSE Physics, Pearson Edexcel
Atomic structure, pages 15-17, GCSE Chemistry; The Revision Guide, CGP, Edexcel
Atomic structure, pages 162-163, GCSE Combined Science, Pearson Edexcel
Atomic structure, pages 18-19, GCSE Chemistry, Pearson, Edexcel
Atomic structure, pages 32-35, 42, 43, GCSE Chemistry, CGP, Edexcel
Atomic structure, pages 78-80, 172, 173, GCSE Combined Science; The Revision Guide, CGP, Edexcel
Atomic; models, pages 149-151, GCSE Physics, CGP, Edexcel
Atoms, page 140, GCSE Physics, Pearson Edexcel
Atoms, pages 146, 162, 380, GCSE Combined Science, Pearson Edexcel
Atoms, pages 2, 18, GCSE Chemistry, Pearson, Edexcel
Atoms, pages 49, 50, GCSE Physics; The Revision Guide, CGP, Edexcel
Atoms; electromagnetic radiation, pages 351, 354, GCSE Combined Science, Pearson Edexcel
Atoms; electromagnetic radiation, pages 87, 90, GCSE Physics, Pearson Edexcel
Atoms; structure, pages 356-357, GCSE Combined Science, Pearson Edexcel
Atoms; structure, pages 92-93, GCSE Physics, Pearson Edexcel

OCR

Atoms, Gateway GCSE Physics, Oxford, OCR
Atoms, pages 13-15, GCSE Chemistry; The Revision Guide, CGP, OCR Gateway
Atoms, pages 22, 26, 96-97, Gateway GCSE Chemistry, Oxford, OCR
Atoms; Energy levels, pages 178-179, Gateway GCSE Physics, Oxford, OCR
Atoms; Isotopes, pages 170-171, Gateway GCSE Physics, Oxford, OCR
Atoms; Models of, pages 18-21, Gateway GCSE Physics, Oxford, OCR

Beyond the Curriculum