Students of GCSE Chemistry will be expected to know the atomic structure of certain elements in the Periodic Table. They should know the numbers and arrangement of protons, neutrons and electrons as well as their atomic numbers and their atomic mass. This is the second in our series of three GCSE Chemistry quizzes on atomic structure and it helps to familiarise students with these elements.
Towards the end of the 18th Century, the scientist John Dalton introduced his theory of atoms to the scientific community. He was trying to help science make sense of the world by bringing his ideas of the atom to the centre of scientific theory. His ideas were not new but science was becoming more popular than before and so ideas like this were more likely to be noticed, discussed, modified and accepted more widely than in the past.
Dalton used small wooden balls and sticks to explain his theory. It took many years for the theory to become accepted - 'Atoms are round bits of wood invented by Mr Dalton' wrote a critic of John Dalton on reading his theory of 'atomism'. Dalton's theory had four parts; first that chemical elements are made of atoms, secondly and thirdly, that atoms of an element are identical to each other, but different from those of different elements. The new science here was that Dalton was able to work out the weight or mass of these atoms. The final part of his theory was that atoms combine in whole number ratios. Although it had taken some time for Dalton's theory to be accepted, it is now the basis for all chemical calculations. The models of atoms that you have seen, and possibly used in lessons, are not much different to those of Dalton's models.
One of the things that Dalton believed was that the atoms of an element were identical to each other. Something that seems obvious to you, but was revolutionary at the time. We now understand why this is the case and can include the number of protons in the definition of an element as follows - atoms that have the same number of protons are the same element. So it doesn't matter about how many electrons or neutrons there are, atoms of the same element always contain the same number of protons. Where two atoms exist that have the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons, we say that they are isotopes. Isotopes are forms of the same element with a different atomic mass, one example being a radioactive form of an element.
Now try these question about atomic structure - you will find it helpful to have your copy of the Periodic Table handy.