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Earth Lab: Atomic Structure



Earth Lab: Atomic Structure
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 10
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   9.53

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    uncharged, subatomic, atomic, periodic, proton, neutron, collection, element, account, define, column, volume, atom, fast-moving, gumballs, naturally


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Earth Lab: Atomic Structure
By Trista L. Pollard
  

1     When scientists design models of atoms, they usually show a simplified version of the atom's nucleus and its subatomic particles. The nucleus is made up of protons and neutrons (picture red and blue gumballs stuck together) with electrons moving at high speeds around the outside of the nucleus (imagine gumballs on a circular wire). Over the years, scientists have found out that the highly fast-moving electrons form a cloud around the nucleus. In fact, within this electron cloud, the electrons are spaced at different distances from the nucleus. These areas of electrons are called energy levels or shells. Each shell can only have a certain number of electrons. Since electrons are negatively charged and opposite charges attract, the electrons are attracted to the nucleus which has a positive charge. It is this attraction that keeps the electrons inside the atom. Speaking of the nucleus, you should know that most of the atom's mass is the nucleus. However, the nucleus's size is extremely small compared to the size of the atom. Most of the atom's volume is empty space, due to the extremely small size of the electrons, protons, and neutrons.
 
2     Scientists use information in the atom to describe elements. The nucleus of an atom has a specific number of protons. This number of protons determines the atom's atomic number and the name of the element. An element's atomic number distinguishes it from other elements. Atoms that are "free" or uncharged have the same number of electrons as protons. Therefore an atom's atomic number is also equal to the number of electrons within that atom. If you think about it, an element is a huge collection of atoms (with neutral charges) that all have the same atomic number. Remember the name of the element? Well, all atoms with six protons are classified as carbon atoms, whereas all oxygen atoms have eight protons. All elements are organized on a periodic table of elements. Elements with similar arrangements of electrons in their atoms are put together in the same column of the periodic table or groups. All of the elements that are part of the group have similar chemical properties. Below is a diagram explaining how elements appear on the periodic table.
 
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