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Structure of Atoms

Updated on May 26, 2011

The Nucleus

The nucleus of an atom is made up of nucleons. Nucleons are positively charged protons and neutrons which have no charge. Protons have roughly the same mass as neutrons. Protons are held together by a very strong short range force called nuclear force that is strong enough to counteract the electrostatic repulsive force of the protons and that is why the nucleus stays together. There is also a gravitational force involved but this is too weak to be of any consequence at this level. 99.9% of an atom resides in the nucleus. The rest of the atom consists mainly of empty space because the nucleus is in a cloud of negatively charged particles called electrons each with a mass that is only a tiny fraction of the mass of the nucleus.

In a stable atom the number of electrons will be the same as the number of protons and in that way the positive charge exactly balances the negative charge.


Spectral Lines

The electrons move very quickly about the nucleus and each electron has its own energy within the cloud it inhabits. If an electron is interfered with in any way then this energy is altered and things happen, e.g. if an electron is given more energy as when it is struck by another electron or particle or quantum of light then it gets excited and behaves in an excited manner until it releases this excess energy and goes back to being itself. The energy released is exactly the energy it gained from the collision and it can be seen using spectral analysis.


Two atoms with the same number of protons but different number of neutrons are called isotopes of each of other. The isotopes however would have the same number of electrons as the number of protons is the same. It then follows that the chemical properties as isotopes are the same. Interestingly scientists are still unable to separate isotopes by chemical methods and different elements have different numbers of isotopes. Gold and Cobalt both have only one naturally occurring isotope whereas Tin as 10.

Atomic Number v Atomic Mass

In the Periodic Table of Elements each element X appears with two numbers. A X Z

The larger number A is called the Mass Number and the smaller number Z is called the Atomic Number. These numbers allow us to determine the structure of each element

e.g. 7Li3

In 7Li3, the letters Li stands for the element Lithium. The number 3 tells us how many protons in the nucleus and the number 7 tells us the collective number of nucleons (protons and neutrons) in the nucleus. By subtracting 3 from 7 we can find the number of neutrons in the nucleus of 7Li3 which is the 4. Because the number of protons must be the same as the number of electrons in every stable atom it follows that 7Li3 has 3 electrons in the cloud around the nucleus.

1 H1 is hydrogen 2 H1 and 3 H1 are isotopes of Hydrogen called Deuterium and Tritium respectively and only differ in the number of neutrons in the core.

Isotopes of Hydrogen

Tritium (3 H1)is a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen(1 H1). It is rare for Tritium to occur naturally on earth. The radiation from Tritium is relatively weak but if ingested or inhaled into the lungs it is potential hazard.

Tritium is produced in nuclear reactors using Heavy Water moderators to slow neutrons down. Heavy Water is water with the hydrogen atoms replaced with Deuterium atoms. Heavy Water is not radioactive but is used in nuclear reactors to slow down neutrons enough to react with the core. These neutrons can be captured by the deuterium atoms in heavy water to form Tritium but not in any great numbers. The risk to the environment is however great enough to warrant the moderator being cleaned of Tritium every few years.

Intersetingly, plant seeds will not germinate in heavy water and animals given only heavy water to drink become ill and actually die when about 50% of their body-water has been replaced with heavy water.


Nature and our Core

Isn't amazing how such tiny changes at the atomic level can have such huge influences on other levels. Imagine that a Hydroden atom can become so different as a result of having one or two extra neutrons in the nucleus.

I wonder if in fact nature is teaching us a lesson in the very structure of the atoms that make up our physical existence.

The number of electrons in the cloud orbiting the nucleus of an atom does not have the same impact on the character of an atom as the structure of its core though it does determine its behaviour chemically. If we use this as an analogy for our own lives doesn't it make sense that we pay more attention to the core of our being rather to our external perceptions in our pursuit of truth? Ultimately it is what we believe we are at the core of our being that determines who we are and the activities we involve ourselves in are mere reflections of our core structure.

Ordinary hydrogen in water is life sustaining whereas isotopes of hydrogen in water are life threatening. The character of the core determines the ultimate contribution we each make to this world constructively or destructively.


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    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 7 years ago from Isle of Man

      Thank you d.william. I appreciate your vote of confidence.

    • d.william profile image

      d.william 7 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      Wow. interesting hub and certainly interesting comments. I will never pretend to understand quantum physics, but i certainly see your analogy to life, and hydrogen vs. hydrogen isotopes.

      The last paragraph, especially the last sentence, is the most profound for me, as you know, this is also MY core belief: "The character of the core determines the ultimate contribution we each make to this world, either constructively, or destructively".

      I could not have summed it up any better than that.


    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 7 years ago from Isle of Man

      Pierre AKA Fatfist, AKA Winston do you really have multiple personalities or are you trying to be clever, it really isn't working you know!HP is on to you so you had better crawl back under the rock you came from or start taking your medicine again!

    • FaceThe Facts profile image

      Righ Knight 7 years ago from Vancouver, BC

      You know its really funny watching you go around hubpages making an ass of yourself arguing quantum physics with everyone.

      Do you still believe perpetual motion is not possible?

      I'm glad that you "went to school" so long ago that your teachings are as aged as the men who wrote them.

      that your little "well educated" mind cant fathom why your in your late 30's early 40's and still a loser. its because your arguing quantum physics with 20 year olds learning the real thing and still probably chasing tail online. when the rest of us are actually getting some.

      And do not be confused sir, i know you have nothing more important in your life to do right now than read this message. you are pathetic and a BURDEN on humanity.

      and the only difference between you and me is i'm NOT a balding, sterile, community college educated, know-nothing know-it-all, with an attitude like my i shit gold and it matters.

      well quit walking around offering everyone your shit, because it ain't gold, and YES we can smell it.

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 7 years ago from Canada

      Don't talk about safety zones, talk about what's actually PROVEN. I challenged Spirit Whisperer to PROVE his allegations such as, "Ordinary hydrogen in water is life sustaining whereas isotopes of hydrogen in water are life threatening. The character of the core determines the ultimate contribution we each make to this world constructively or destructively."

      This is INCREDIBLY stupid prose! Nothing about matter has ANY analogy in human emotions.

      And where do you get the nonsense that it was "scientifically impossible" for a bumblebee to fly. It does fly; what keeps it up, spirit powers? Odd, there is no proof spirit powers operate anywhere.

    • Safe Harbour profile image

      Safe Harbour 7 years ago from Co.Waterford, Ireland

      Pierre I feel for you I really do. You are hiding on the island called Chemistry.I have just read your profile and you sound like an angry man.Its your way or the highway. I too like so many am educated to masters level and only found that my real education started when I started to let go of the easy stuff that makes me feel safe and embraced the stuff that I hated. If you destest it its because its the very place you need to go.Read Bruce Liptons book, The Biologoy of Belief. Its not hairy fairy religous crap, its a Bioligost building bridges. Science and Chemistry are as dangerous as religion once you stop questioning your own understanding and beliefs. Isnt it true that it is scientifcally impossible for a bumble bee to fly ? Dont tell them, no honey for us ! , Love and strength to you my friend on this adventure.

    • Safe Harbour profile image

      Safe Harbour 7 years ago from Co.Waterford, Ireland

      Spirit Whisperer , your article has done a wonderful thing , it has provoked thought in the mind of at least one person stuck in their comfort zone on the island of knowldege called chemistry, I am leaving this island now for a little while to explore the other islands , Come on Pierre , island hop around this website my friend and use the wonderful scientific brain you have to provoke thought on the other islands. Also everyone take a look at Dr Bruce Liptons wonderful book called The Biology of Belief,

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 7 years ago from Isle of Man

      Hi Austinstar Thank you for stopping by and I appreciate your support. HP have already asked Pierre to back off but he is not doing this. This is an example of fanaticism ad like a dog with a bone he just can't let go.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 7 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      I too thought at first this was a pure science hub. But I was not offended or even surprised by the atom being relative to our view on life. All is connected.

      Get off your high horse, Pierre.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 7 years ago from Isle of Man

      Thank you Safe Harbour.I'll have read this book you refer to, sounds interesting. There are many people who hold beliefs like Pierre and don't even realise that the "truth" they cling to is just a belief. I was initially upset by Pierre's remarks because I myself fell into the same trap but managed to stand back from it and see it for what it is. The mind is complex and I have learned to keep checking that I don't keep falling for the tricks it plays. As I would not criticise a blind man because his eyes weren't working and who is unable to see the things I can see I cannot criticise Pierre. He has has his view and I have mine. I can appreciate his view without criticising it as I would a piece of art or a poem but he can't force me to like his or accept it as mine if I choose not to. By the way I love your hubs and welcome to HP. I too am looking forward to reading Pierre's hub and may even become one of his followers if it impresses me enough.

    • Safe Harbour profile image

      Safe Harbour 7 years ago from Co.Waterford, Ireland

      Thank you Spirit Whisperer for such a well written hub. It builds bridges between so many topics. These topics are like islands of knowledge. Each island has its own "experts" and top of the pile is the chief. When a new age traveller lands on the island and brings new ideas he is usually eaten! Are you tasty ? or boney ? This whole debate reminds me of the one raised a few years ago by a book called The Biology of Belief. Pierre , stop banging your chest my friend and post a hub to prove Spirit Whisperer wrong.

    • profile image

      tnderhrt23 7 years ago

      Spirit Whisperer, I find your hub to be fascinating, well-written, and appropriately placed. Thank you!

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 7 years ago from Isle of Man

      Thank you for reading my hubs and this one in particular. I appreciate your very kind and supportive comments. With regard to your question about where I get my information, my degree is in Natural Sciences and I have taught Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics up to High School.My daughter recently asked me about the structure of the atom because they were doing it in school so I thought I would kill two birds with the one stone and I wrote this for her and in a way that she could also relate it to her life. I love science but see it not as separate from life and that is why I draw parallels when I write about it.

    • CMCastro profile image

      Christina M. Castro 7 years ago from Baltimore,MD USA

      Hi Spirit Whisperer, I thoroughly enjoy everything you write about. When I see your name on my email, I read your hubs right away, as I am your enthusiastic fan. Based on your profile, and your writing style,there is validity in what you have written. I have always been fascinated with the science around us and as I had to study Chemistry and all the other sciences for my profession, I appreciated every part. I can only speak for myself. And I always follow positive hub writers.The ones who are foolish and not positive I simply don't follow. It is unfortunate that such unnecessary comments go on. There are guidelines to follow even for hub commenting, so I support you for the flagging of any individuals on HP that uses the comment section of any hub inappropriately.

      I am very impressed for your information, especially about the information on Heavy Water. Where does your reference on that information come from? Do you know a website so I can get more information?

      My belief in Science is Real, and God appoints only certain minds to understand it. Thank you.

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 7 years ago from Canada

      Not Chemistry. Flagged.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 7 years ago from Isle of Man

      It is Chemistry and I relate Chemistry to our own lives in the very last paragraph. I am not sure what you mean. Have you read the article or just the last paragraph?

    • Pierre Savoie profile image

      Pierre Savoie 7 years ago from Canada

      Are you writing about chemistry or are you pushing mystical concepts? Because if it's not chemistry you're talking about you'll get flagged. Move it to the New Age section.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 7 years ago from Isle of Man

      Thank you for your interest and I appreciate you visiting.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Some interesting points made, especially with regard to heavy water.



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