Science – The Elements – What is an Atom?

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If you can eat it, throw it, dance on it, or ride it to the moon, it’s made of atoms. Atoms are all around us, in fact, they are us! So, what exactly is an atom?

What is an Atom?

Simply put, atoms are the building blocks of matter. Things that take up space are made of matter. Things like basketballs, toothpaste, and air. Stuff like electricity and heat are energy, but we will talk about that another time.

Fancy Science Words
MatterAnything that takes up space.
EnergyPower, like electricity or heat.
ElementAnything that is made up of only one type of atom.

There are 118 different types of atoms that we know of. When we are talking about just one type of atom, we call it an element. Hydrogen is an element, and so is Oxygen. When you put them together, you get water!

Can Atoms be Split Apart?

Atoms can be split apart. But splitting an atom will change its element. Atoms can also be smashed together. This changes their element too.

Fancy Science Words
Nuclear FissionSplitting atoms apart.
Nuclear FusionSmashing atoms together.

For example, an atom of Uranium can be split apart into an atom of Barium and an atom of Krypton. This is called Nuclear Fission.

When two Hydrogen atoms get smashed together, they turn into one atom of Helium. This is called Nuclear Fusion, and that’s how the sun gives us heat and light!

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What are Atoms Made of?

Fancy Science Words
ParticlesSmall parts that make up atoms.
ProtonsA particle with a positive charge.
NeutronsA particle with no charge.
ElectronsA particle with a negative charge.
NucleusThe center of an atom. Made up of protons and neutrons.
Periodic TableA chart listing all of the different types of atoms.

Atoms are kind of like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Jelly is jelly and peanut butter is peanut butter, but when you put them together on bread, you get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Atoms are made up of three parts too. These parts are called particles. The three particles that make up an atom are protons, neutrons, and electrons.

An atom of Helium

Protons and neutrons stay in the middle of the atom. This is called the nucleus. Electrons circle the nucleus, just like the moon circles the earth. Atoms stick together because protons and electrons have electrical charges. Protons have a positive charge, and electrons have a negative charge. This makes them want to stick together like two magnets.

ElementAtomic Number
Hydrogen1
Helium2
Oxygen8
Krypton36
Barium56
Uranium92

So, there you have it. Atoms are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and if you stick them together, you can make basketballs and toothpaste. Well… not exactly.

In the next article, we will learn about Hydrogen, the first element on the periodic table. It’s going to be explosive!

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