Structure of the atom

Protons, neutrons and electrons

Atoms are very small, they have a radius of around 1 × 10-10 metres.

The modern view of the is of a containing and with smaller orbiting outside the nucleus.

Each particle has its own charge and its own mass.

Relative chargeRelative mass
Proton+11
Neutron01
Electron-1Close to 0 (1/2,000)

Mass number and atomic number

Protons and neutrons are the heaviest particles in an atom and as a result they make up most of the of the atom. The mass of electrons is often not considered to be significant.

The number of protons is what defines the , ie an atom with six protons in its nucleus will always be carbon, and uranium will always have 92 protons.

The total number of protons and neutrons is called the and the number of protons is called the .

In a neutral atom, the number of electrons is always the same as the number of protons. If the atom becomes however, the number of electrons will change. An ion is an atom that has lost or gained one or more electron.

Using atomic symbols

Mass number and atomic number are two important pieces of information about an atom.

An atom can be represented using the symbol notation:

Where:

• A is the mass number
• Z is the atomic number
• X is the symbol

For example, chlorine (Cl) can be shown as:

This symbol shows that chlorine has 35 particles in the nucleus (protons and neutrons), 17 of which are protons. It also tells us that chlorine has 18 neutrons (35 - 17) and, as the number of electrons and protons are equal in a neutral atom, chlorine also has 17 electrons.