Electrons, Protons and Neutrons
What are Atoms made of?
Although you and I are both individual and distinct human beings that have different likes and dislikes, we share some structural similarities. For example we both have a liver, kidneys and lungs.
Similarly, although chemical elements' atoms are distinct and individual (that is, carbon atoms are different to aluminium atoms), they share some similarities. All atoms are made up of the same smaller particles that we call sub-atomic particles. Sub is just a fancy word for saying underneath - subatomic particles are the next layer down in complexity.
Are there different sub-atomic particles?
Yes, there are three that you need to learn about: protons, neutrons and electrons. These subatomic particles differ in a couple of ways, one of which is the charge they carry:
- Protons have a charge of positive one (+1),
- Electrons have a charge of negative one (-1), and
- Neutrons have no charge (0).
Different atoms have got different numbers of these sub-atomic particles (more on that on here).
Are atoms charged?
In their base or ground state atoms have got the same number of protons and electrons. This means that they have the same number of equally opposing charges, making the atoms neutral.
But atoms can become charged by getting rid of, or collecting electrons and protons. The resultant charge depends on the balance of electrons and protons.
- If there are more protons than electrons, the atom becomes positively charged. This can happen by
- losing electrons, and/or
- gaining protons.
- If there are more electrons than protons the atom becomes negatively charged. This can happen by
- gaining electrons, and/or
- losing protons.
A change in neutrons does not affect the charge, but it does affect the mass.