After reading this section you will be able to do the following:
- Describe the basic structure of an atom.
- Explain what holds an atom together.
What is an atom composed of?
An atom is the smallest particle of any element that still retains the characteristics of that element. However, atoms consist of even smaller particles. Atoms consist of a central, dense nucleus that is surrounded by one or more lightweight negatively charged particles called electrons. The nucleus is made up of positively charged particles called protons and neutrons which are neutral. An atom is held together by forces of attraction between the electrons and the protons. The neutrons help to hold the protons together. Protons and neutrons are believed to be made up of even smaller particles called quarks. We will limit our discussions to protons, neutrons and electrons.
Niels Bohr was a Danish scientist who introduced the model of an atom in 1913. Bohr's model consists of a central nucleus surrounded by tiny particles called electrons that are orbiting the nucleus in a cloud. These electrons are spinning so fast around the nucleus of the atom that they would be just a blur if we could see particles that small. In our pictures and exercises the electron appears to orbit in the same path around the nucleus much like the planets orbit the Sun. But, please be aware that electrons do not really orbit in the same path. The electrons actually change their orbit with each revolution.
- Atoms are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons.
- The forces of attraction between the electrons and the protons hold an atom together.