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Earth Science
Earth Lab: Atomic Structure

Earth Science
Earth Science

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

     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 green gumballs stuck together) with electrons moving at high speeds around the outside of the nucleus (imagine gumballs on a circular wire). Most of the atom's mass is found in 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. Fast-moving electrons form a cloud around the nucleus. 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.
2     Scientists use characteristics of atoms to describe elements. The nucleus of an atom has a specific number of protons. The number of protons determines the atom's atomic number. Each atomic number corresponds to a single element. An element's atomic number distinguishes it from other elements. All atoms with six protons are classified as carbon atoms, whereas all oxygen atoms have eight protons. Atoms that are "free" or uncharged have the same number of electrons as protons. Therefore, as a general rule, an atom's atomic number is also equal to the number of electrons within that atom. All elements are organized on a periodic table of elements. Elements are arranged in columns, or groups, and rows, or periods, in the periodic table. All of the elements that are part of the same group have similar chemical properties. They all contain the same number of electrons in their outermost shell. Each member of the group has its outermost electrons in different shells. All of the elements that are in the same period contain differing numbers of electrons in the same outer shell. Below is an example of the element carbon on the periodic table.

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