Have you ever observed a mason building walls, from these walls a room and then a collection of rooms to form a building? What is the building block of the huge building? What about the building block of an ant-hill? It is a small grain of sand. Similarly, the building blocks of all matter are atom.
How big are atoms?
Atoms are very small, they are smaller than anything that we can imagine or compare with. More than millions of atoms when stacked would make a layer barely as thick as this sheet of paper.
Atomic radius is measured in nanometres.
1/10 9 m = 1 nm
1 m = 109nm
|Radii (in m)||Example|
|10–10||Atom of hydrogen|
|10–9||Molecule of water|
|10–8||Molecule of haemoglobin|
|10–4||Grain of sand|
We might think that if atoms are so insignificant in size, why should we care about them? This is because our entire world is made up of atoms. We may not be able to see them, but they are there, and constantly affecting whatever we do. Through modern techniques, we can now produce magnified images of surfaces of elements showing atoms.
WHAT ARE THE MODERN DAY SYMBOLS OF ATOMS OF DIFFERENT ELEMENTS?
Dalton was the first scientist to use the symbols for elements in a very specific sense. When he used a symbol for an element he also meant a definite quantity of that element, that is, one atom of that element. Berzilius suggested that the symbols of elements be made from one or two letters of the name of the element.
In the beginning, the names of elements were derived from the name of the place where they were found for the first time. For example, the name copper was taken from Cyprus. Some names were taken from specific colours. For example, gold was taken from the English word meaning yellow. Now-a-days, IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) is an international scientific organisation which approves names of elements, symbols and units. Many of the symbols are the first one or two letters of the element’s name in English. The first letter of a symbol is always written as a capital letter (uppercase) and the second letter as a small letter (lowercase).
(i) hydrogen, H
(ii) aluminium, Al and not AL
(iii) cobalt, Co and not CO.
Symbols of some elements are formed from the first letter of the name and a letter, appearing later in the name. Examples are:
- chlorine, Cl,
- (ii) zinc, Zn etc.
Other symbols have been taken from the names of elements in Latin, German or Greek. For example, the symbol of iron is Fe from its Latin name ferrum, sodium is Na from natrium, potassium is K from kalium. Therefore, each element has a name and a unique chemical symbol.
(The above table is given for you to refer to whenever you study about elements. Do not bother to memorise all in one go. With the passage of time and repeated usage you will automatically be able to reproduce the symbols).
The most remarkable concept that Dalton’s atomic theory proposed was that of the atomic mass. According to him, each element had a characteristic atomic mass. The theory could explain the law of constant proportions so well that scientists were prompted to measure the atomic mass of an atom. Since determining the mass of an individual atom was a relatively difficult task, relative atomic masses were determined using the laws of chemical combinations and the compounds formed. Let us take the example of a compound, carbon monoxide (CO) formed by carbon and oxygen. It was observed experimentally that 3g of carbon combines with 4 g of oxygen to form CO. In other words, carbon combines with 4/3 times its mass of oxygen. Suppose we define the atomic mass unit (earlier abbreviated as ‘amu’, but according to the latest IUPAC recommendations, it is now written as ‘u’ – unified mass) as equal to the mass of one carbon atom, then we would assign carbon an atomic mass of 1.0 u and oxygen an atomic mass of 1.33 u. However, it is more convenient to have these numbers as whole numbers or as near to a whole numbers as possible. While searching for various atomic mass units, scientists initially took 1/16 of the mass of an atom of naturally occurring oxygen as the unit. This was considered relevant due to two reasons:
• oxygen reacted with a large number of elements and formed compounds.
• this atomic mass unit gave masses of most of the elements as whole numbers.
However, in 1961 for a universally accepted atomic mass unit, carbon-12 isotope was chosen as the standard reference for measuring atomic masses. One atomic mass unit is a mass unit equal to exactly one-twelfth (1/12th) the mass of one atom of carbon-12. The relative atomic masses of all elements have been found with respect to an atom of carbon-12. Imagine a fruit seller selling fruits without any standard weight with him. He takes a watermelon and says, “this has a mass equal to 12 units” (12 watermelon units or 12 fruit mass units). He makes twelve equal pieces of the watermelon and finds the mass of each fruit he is selling, relative to the mass of one piece of the watermelon. Now he sells his fruits by relative fruit mass unit (fmu), as in Fig. 3.4. Similarly, the relative atomic mass of the atom of an element is defined as the average mass of the atom, as compared to 1/12th the mass of one carbon-12 atom.
|Element||Atomic Mass (u)|
HOW DO ATOMS EXIST?
Atoms of most elements are not able to exist independently. Atoms form molecules and ions. These molecules or ions aggregate in large numbers to form the matter that we can see, feel or touch.