Elements play a key role in chemistry because they are the simplest form of matter available in chemistry. Basically, they can’t be chemically broken down into something simpler, like the atoms they’re made of. The atoms that make up elements are made up of three key pieces – electrons, neutrons, and protons. Each element is known by an atomic number. This atomic number defines the number of protons held in the nuclei of the atoms.
Many elements will be made up of atoms that contain valence electrons. This means that they can react with atoms from the same element or atoms from other elements to create compounds. You can learn more about valence electrons with this useful article. You can learn more about elements with an online class, but you can also read up on some basic information about elements below before starting your class.
Atoms – The Building Blocks of Elements
Elements are made up of the same type of atom, which is the basic unit of an element. Atoms are made up of three parts – electrons, protons, and neutrons. Electrons are negatively-charged particles that circle around the nucleus of an atom. Protons are positively-charged particles that make up the nucleus. Neutrons have no charge and make up the nucleus with the protons.
You will know if something is an element if the atoms that make it up all have the same number of protons. If there are atoms with a different number of protons involved as well, you are likely dealing with a mixture of two or more elements known as a compound. You can read more on compounds below. Practice for the Chemistry Regents with an online class.
Elements – They’re the Materials That Make Things Happen
There are a number of different elements, and more are being discovered all the time. Some have even been created in laboratory tests. Elements take on a form visible to the human eye when a number of atoms of the same element combine together to create a pure form of that element. These elements have been organized into something called the periodic table, which will be explained in more detail below. For now, here’s a brief list of elements that you likely know or have come into contact with whether you know it or not.
- oxygen – found in the air we breathe, and mixes with hydrogen to create the water we drink
- nitrogen – often added to potting soil, helps make plants grow
- hydrogen – the lightest element known, a gas that mixes with oxygen to create the water we drink
- helium – another light gas, usually used to fill up balloons for occasions
- iron – a metal, this particular metal is also found in our blood, anemia is a disease that is caused by a lack of iron in the blood
- calcium – found in milk, makes our bones stronger
- zinc – a metal, also found in vitamin pills, plays an important biological role as a mineral
- neon – usually in a gas form, used for neon advertising signs and helium-neon lasers
- potassium – found in bananas, can also be found as a metal
As you can see, elements are all around you even if you never realized it. Now, let’s move on to talk more about how elements are organized using the Periodic Table of Elements. Study for the Chemistry Regents with an online class.
The Periodic Table of Elements – Organization of the Elements
As said before, the elements are organized by their atomic number. That atomic number is the number of protons that make up the nucleus of that element. Dmitri Mendeleev is usually credited with creating the first Periodic Table of Elements back in 1869, and they are connected by specific grouping methods, which are explained in detail below. You can check out Web Element’s interactive Periodic Table, which you can use as a study guide in conjunction with your class on Regents Chemistry.
The vertical columns of the periodic table are known as groups. The elements within these groups tend to have patterns in atomic radius, ionization energy, and electronegativity. They groups are numbered from one to eighteen. They used to be numbered with roman numerals.
The horizontal rows of the periodic table are called periods. Again, elements are often placed in the same period because of trends in the elements’ atomic radius, ionization energy, and electronegativity. However, this particular grouping method also uses electron affinity.
Regions of the periodic table are often known as blocks, defined by the sequence electrons fill the electron shells of an element. The blocks are s-block, d-block, p-block, and f-block. The names are derived from the subshell where the last electron is held.
The elements of the periodic table are also frequently organized by categories. That is, elements are sometimes grouped based on their physical and chemical properties. The three major categories are metals, metalloids, and nonmetals. Metals and nonmetals tend to be broken down into smaller categories like metallic and non-metallic.
As stated before, if you’re studying a material that is made up of elements that have different atomic number, you’re likely dealing with a compound. A compound is a mixture of two or more elements. Water is considered a compound because it is made from oxygen and two hydrogen. There are a number of common compounds that you probably use on a daily basis. Here’s a basic list of compounds below.
- sugar (C12H22O11) – Made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. You probably toss this into your morning coffee every morning without a thought to the fact that you’re actually doing chemistry right there in your kitchen. You’re taking a compound that is a mix of three elements and tossing it into a compound that is a mix of a number of different elements. A quick stir, and you just mixed two compounds together.
- water (H2O) – Made up of oxygen and hydrogen. This is probably the most well-known compound because we drink it every day. We also take showers with it, wash our dishes with it, and do so much more with it. Sometimes, we even just play with it, like in pools or sprinklers.
- salt (NaCl) – Made up of sodium and chlorine. If you were to take sodium on its own and ingest it, you would likely end up very sick or even die. The same goes for chlorine. However, for whatever reason the two together combine to create something known as salt. We use it on our food all the time. Studies do show that a high salt diet is bad for you too, though, and it might have something to do with the two elements this compound was made from.
- vinegar (C2H4O2) – Also known as acetic acid, it’s made from carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. However, the makeup of vinegar is different from sugar because of the number of molecules used from each element to create the compound. This is what make mixing chemicals so unique.
As you can see, elements are not quite as simple as they seem. Though they are the simplest form of material in chemistry, they are made up of even smaller units, and those units are made up of even smaller units. Elements can also be used to create new things by mixing several into a compound. Chemistry is all around you, and you might have never even known it was there.