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By Oleksandr Koliakin

A lot of the things that we know of is made out of atoms. Some people think that everything is made out of atoms, which is wrong, since stuff like energy is not made out of atoms. Until not so long ago, people thought that atoms were the smallest bits of matter in existence. Then scientists discovered that atoms are, in fact, made out of smaller particles. Most people think that atoms can only be made out of protons, neutrons and electrons. However, that is not always the case, since scientists have created and proposed atoms that had other leptons instead of electrons and other particles in the nucleus of the atom, instead of protons and neutrons.

To understand atoms, we first need to understand what they are made out of. The nucleus of an atom, which is its center, is made out of, in most cases, protons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are, in turn, made out of quarks. Around the nucleus, there orbits a few leptons, most commonly electrons. The number of electrons is usually the same as the number of protons in an atom, unless a few more atoms are added or taken away from the atom, then it becomes a positively or negatively charged ion.

The type of atom depends on the amount of protons/electrons it has. An atom with one proton in the nucleus (and one electron) is an atom of hydrogen. If you have two protons in the nucleus, that would be helium.

A lot of the types of atoms (also known as elements) have isotopes. Since neutrons are not charged, you can add different amounts of them to different atoms without changing their type (unless the atom falls apart) The name of the isotope is named after the number of neutrons plus the number of protons. Hydrogen-1 has 1 proton and no neutrons in the nucleus. Hydrogen- has 1 proton and 1 neutron in its nucleus. If the ratio between the number of protons and the number of neutrons is not 'happy', the isotope will be highly unstable. For example, hydrogen-3 decays after more than a decade.


  • "Sciencia" (book)

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