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Element, Chemical

Element, chemical

A chemical element can be defined in one of two ways: experimentally or theoretically. Experimentally, an element is any substance that cannot be broken down into any simpler substance. Imagine that you are given a piece of pure iron and asked to break it down using any device or method ever invented by chemists. Nothing you can do will ever change the iron into anything simpler. Iron, therefore, is an element.

The experimental definition of an element can be explained by using a second definition: an element is a substance in which all atoms are of the same kind. If there were a way to look at each of the individual atoms in the bar of pure iron mentioned above, they would all be the sameall atoms of iron. In contrast, a chemical compound, such as iron oxide, always contains at least two different kinds of atoms, in this case, atoms of iron and atoms of oxygen.

Words to Know

Atomic mass: The mass of the protons, neutrons, and electrons that make up an atom.

Atomic number: The number of protons in the nucleus of an element's atom.

Chemical symbol: A letter or pair of letters that represents some given amount of an element.

Compound, chemical: A substance that consists of two or more chemical elements joined to each other in a specific proportion.

Metal: An element that loses electrons in chemical reactions with other elements.

Metalloid: An element that acts sometimes like a metal and sometimes like a nonmetal.

Nonmetal: An element that tends to gain electrons in chemical reactions with other elements.

Periodic table: A system of classifying the chemical elements according to their atomic number.

Synthetic element: An element that is made artificially in a laboratory but is generally not found in nature.

Natural and synthetic elements

Ninety-two chemical elements occur naturally on Earth. The others have been made synthetically or artificially in a laboratory. Synthetic elements are usually produced in particle accelerators (devices used to increase the velocity of subatomic particles such as electrons and protons) or nuclear reactors (devices used to control the energy released by nuclear reactions). The first synthetic element to be produced was technetium, discovered in 1937 by Italian American physicist Emilio Segrè (19051989) and his colleague C. Perrier. Except for technetium and promethium, all synthetic elements have larger nuclei than uranium.

Two Dozen Common and Important Chemical Elements

Percent of all atoms*
Element Symbol In the universe In Earth's crust In sea water In the human body Characteristics under ordinary room conditions
*If no number is entered, the element constitutes less than 0.1 percent.
Aluminum Al 6.3 A lightweight, silvery metal
Calcium Ca 2.1 .02 Common in minerals, seashells, and bones
Carbon C 10.7 Basic in all living things
Chlorine Cl 0.3 A toxic gas
Copper Cu The only red metal
Gold Au The only yellow metal
Helium He 7.1 A very light gas
Hydrogen H 92.8 2.9 66.2 60.6 The lightest of all elements; a gas
Iodine I A nonmetal; used as antiseptic
Iron Fe 2.1 A magnetic metal; used in steel
Lead Pb A soft, heavy metal
Magnesium Mg 2.0 A very light metal
Mercury Hg A liquid metal; one of the two liquid elements
Nickel Ni A noncorroding metal; used in coins
Nitrogen N 2.4 A gas; the major component of air
Oxygen O 60.1 33.1 25.7 A gas; the second major component of air
Phosphorus P 0.1 A nonmetal; essential to plants
Potassium K 1.1 A metal; essential to plants; commonly called "potash"
Silicon Si 20.8 A semiconductor; used in electronics
Silver Ag A very shiny, valuable metal
Sodium Na 2.2 0.3 A soft metal; reacts readily with water, air
Sulfur S 0.1 A yellow nonmetal; flammable
Titanium Ti 0.3 A light, strong, noncorroding metal used in space vehicles
Uranium U A very heavy metal; fuel for nuclear power

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, there were 114 known elements, ranging from hydrogen (H), whose atoms have only one electron, to the as-yet unnamed element whose atoms contain 114 electrons. New elements are difficult to produce. Only a few atoms can be made at a time, and it usually takes years before scientists agree on who discovered what and when.

Classifying elements

More than 100 years ago, chemists began searching for ways to organize the chemical elements. At first, they tried listing them by the size (mass) of their nucleus, their atomic mass. Later, they found that using the number of protons in their atomic nuclei was a more effective technique. They invented a property known as atomic number for this organization. The atomic number of an element is defined as the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom of that element. Hydrogen has an atomic number of 1, for example, because the nuclei of hydrogen atoms each contain oneand only oneproton. Similarly, oxygen has an atomic number of 8 because the nuclei of all oxygen atoms contain 8 protons. The accompanying table (periodic table of the elements) contains a list of the known chemical elements arranged in order according to their atomic number.

Notice that the chemical symbol for each element is also included in the table. The chemical symbol of an element is a letter or pair of letters that stands for some given amount of the element, for example, for one atom of the element. Thus, the symbol Ca stands for one atom of calcium, and the symbol W stands for one atom of tungsten. Chemical symbols, therefore, are not really abbreviations.

Chemical elements can be fully identified, therefore, by any one of three characteristics: their name, their chemical symbol, or their atomic number. If you know any one of these identifiers, you immediately know the other two. Saying "Na" to a chemist immediately tells that person that you are referring to sodium, element #11. Similarly, if you say "element 19," the chemist knows that you're referring to potassium, known by the symbol K.

The system of classifying elements used by chemists today is called the periodic table. The law on which the periodic table is based was first discovered almost simultaneously by German chemist Julius Lothar Meyer (18301895) and Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleev (18341907) in about 1870. The periodic table is one of the most powerful tools in chemistry because it organizes the chemical elements in groups that have similar physical and chemical properties.

Properties of the elements

One useful way of describing the chemical elements is according to their metallic or nonmetallic character. Most metals are hard with bright, shiny surfaces, often white or grey in color. Since important exceptions to this rule exist, metals are more properly defined according to the way they behave in chemical reactions. Metals, by this definition, are elements that lose electrons to other elements. By comparison, nonmetals are elements that gain electrons from other elements in chemical reactions. (They may be gases, liquids, or solids but seldom look like a metal.) The vast majority (93) of the elements are metals; the rest are nonmetals.

A Who's Who of the Elements

Element Distinction Comment
Astatine (At) The rarest Rarest of the naturally occurring elements
Boron (B) The strongest Highest stretch resistance
Californium (Cf) The most expensive Sold at one time for about $1 billion a gram
Carbon (C) The hardest As diamond, one of its three solid forms
Germanium (Ge) The purest Has been purified to 99.99999999 percent purity
Helium (He) The lowest melting point 271.72°C at a pressure of 26 times atmospheric pressure
Hydrogen (H) The lowest density Density 0.0000899 g/cc at atmospheric pressure and 0°C
Lithium (Li) The lowestdensity metal Density 0.534g/cc
Osmium (Os) The highest density Density 22.57 g/cc
Radon (Rn) The highestdensity gas Density 0.00973 g/cc at atmospheric pressure and 0°C
Tungsten (W) The highest melting point 3,420°C

Historical background

The concept of a chemical element goes back more than 2,000 years. Ancient Greek philosophers conceived of the idea that some materials are more fundamental, or basic, than others. They listed obviously important materials such as earth, air, fire, and water as possibly being such "elemental" materials. These speculations belonged in the category of philosophy, however, rather than science. The Greeks had no way of testing their ideas to confirm them.

In fact, a few elements were already known long before the speculations of the Greek philosophers. No one at that time called these materials elements or thought of them as being different from the materials we call compounds today. Among the early elements used by humans were iron, copper, silver, tin, and lead. We know that early civilizations knew about and used these elements because of tools, weapons, and pieces of art that remain from the early periods of human history.

Another group of elements was discovered by the alchemists, the semimystical scholars who contributed to the early development of chemistry. These elements include antimony, arsenic, bismuth, phosphorus, and zinc.

Formation of the Elements

How were the chemical elements formed? Scientists believe the answer to that question lies in the stars and in the processes by which stars are formed. The universe is thought to have been created at some moment in time 12 to 15 billion years ago. Prior to that moment, nothing other than energy is thought to have existed. But something occurred to transform that energy into an enormous explosion: the big bang. In the seconds following the big bang, matter began to form.

According to the big bang theory, the simplest forms of matter to appear were protons and electrons. Some of these protons and electrons combined to form atoms of hydrogen. A hydrogen atom consists of one proton and one electron; it is the simplest atom that can exist. Slowly, over long periods of time, hydrogen atoms began to come together in regions of space forming dense clouds. The hydrogen in these clouds was pulled closer and closer together by gravitational forces. Eventually these clouds of hydrogen were dense enough to form stars.

A star is simply a mass of matter that generates energy by nuclear reactions. The most common of these reactions involves the combination of four hydrogen atoms to make one helium atom. As soon as stars began to form, then, helium became the second element found in the universe.

As stars grow older, they switch from hydrogen-to-helium nuclear reactions to other nuclear reactions. In another such reaction, helium atoms combine to form carbon atoms. Later carbon atoms combine to form oxygen, neon, sodium, and magnesium. Still later, neon and oxygen combine with each other to form magnesium. As these reactions continue, more and more of the chemical elements are formed.

At some point, all stars die. The nuclear reactions on which they depend for their energy come to an end. In some cases, a star's death is dramatic. It may actually blow itself apart, like an atomic bomb. The elements of which the star was made are then spread throughout the universe. They remain in space until they are drawn into the core of other stars or other astronomical bodies, such as our own Earth. If this theory is correct, then the atoms of iron, silver, and oxygen you see around you every day actually started out life in the middle of a star billions of miles away.

The modern definition of an element was first provided by English chemist Robert Boyle (16271691). Boyle defined elements as "certain primitive and simple, or perfectly unmingled bodies; which not being made of any other bodies, or of one another, are the ingredients of which all those call'd perfectly mixed bodies are immediately compounded, and into which they are ultimately resolved." For all practical purposes, Boyle's definition of an element has remained the standard working definition for a chemical element ever since.

By the year 1800, no more than about 25 true elements had been discovered. During the next hundred years, however, that situation changed rapidly. By the end of the century, 80 elements were known. The rapid pace of discovery during the 1800s can be attributed to the development of chemistry as a science, to the improved tools of analysis available to chemists, and to the new predictive power provided by the periodic law of 1870.

During the twentieth century, the last remaining handful of naturally occurring elements were discovered and the synthetic elements were first manufactured.

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Chemical Elements

Chemical elements

By the end of the nineteenth century, the elements and matter comprising all things could no long be viewed as immutable. The dramatic rise of scientific methodology and experimentation during the later half of the eighteenth century set the stage for the fundamental advances in chemistry and physics made during the nineteenth century. In less than a century, European society moved from an understanding of the chemical elements grounded in mysticism to an understanding of the relationships between elements found in a modern periodic table . During the eighteenth century, there was a steady march of discovery with regard to the chemical elements. Isolations of hydrogen and oxygen allowed for the formation of water from its elemental components. Nineteenth century scientists built experiments on new-found familiarity with elements such as nitrogen, beryllium, chromium and titanium.

By the mid-nineteenth century, chemistry was in need of organization. New elements were being discovered at an increasing pace. Accordingly, the challenge for chemists and physicists was to find a key to understand the increasing volume of experimental evidence regarding the properties of the elements. In 1869, the independent development of the periodic law and tables by the Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleev (18341907) and German chemist Julius Meyer (183095) brought long sought order and understanding to the elements.

Mendeleev and Meyer did not work in a vacuum. English chemist J.A.R. Newlands (18371898) had already published several works that ventured relationships among families of elements, including his "law of octaves" hypothesis. Mendeleev's periodic chart of elements, however, spurred important discoveries and isolation of chemical elements. Most importantly, Mendeleev's table provided for the successful prediction of the existence of new elements and these predictions proved true with the discovery of gallium (1875), scandium (1879) and germanium (1885).

By the end of the nineteenth century, the organization of the elements was so complete that British physicists Lord Rayleigh (born John William Strutt, 18421919) and William Ramsay (18521916) were able to expand the periodic table and to predict the existence and properties of the noble gases argon and neon.

Nineteenth century advances were, however, not limited to mere identification and isolation of the elements. By 1845, German chemist Adolph Kolbe (181884) synthesized an organic compound and, in 1861, another German chemist Friedrich Kekule (18291896) related the properties of molecules to their geometric shape. These advances led to the development of wholly new materials (e.g., plastics, celluloids) that had a dramatic impact on a society in midst of industrial revolution.

The most revolutionary development with regard to the elucidation of the elements during the nineteenth century came in the waning years of the century. In 1895, Wilhelm Röntgen (18451923) published a paper titled: "On a New Kind of Rays." Röntgen's work offered the first description of x rays and offered compelling photographs of photographs of a human hand. The scientific world quickly grasped the importance of Röntgen's discovery. At a meeting of the French Academy of Science, Henri Becquerel (18521908) observed the pictures taken by Röntgen of bones in the hand. Within months Becquerel presented two important reports concerning "uranium rays" back to the Academy. Becquerel, who was initially working with phosphorescence, described the phenomena that later came to be understood as radioactivity . Less than two years later, two other French scientists, Pierre (18591906) and Marie Curie (born in Poland, 18671934) announced the discovery of the radioactive elements polonium and radium. Marie Curie then set out on a systematic search for radioactive elements and was able, eventually, to document the discovery of radioactivity in uranium and thorium minerals .

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, Ernest Rutherford (18711937), using an electrometer, identified two types of radioactivity, which he labeled alpha radiation and beta radiation. Rutherford actually thought he had discovered a new type of x ray. Subsequently alpha and beta radiation were understood to be particles. Alpha radiation is composed of alpha particles (the nucleus of helium). Because alpha radiation is easily stopped, alpha radiation-emitting elements are usually not dangerous to biological organisms (e.g., humans) unless the emitting element actually enters the organism. Beta radiation is composed of a stream of electrons (electrons were discovered by J. J. Thomson in 1897) or positively charged particles called positrons.

The impact of the discovery of radioactive elements produced immediate and dramatic impacts upon society. Within a few years, high-energy electromagnetic radiation in the form of x rays, made possible by the discovery of radioactive elements, was used by physicians to diagnose injury. More importantly, the rapid incorporation of x rays into technology established a precedent increasingly followed throughout the twentieth century. Although the composition and nature of radioactive elements was not fully understood, the practical benefits to be derived by society outweighed scientific prudence.

Italian scientist Alessandro Volta's (17451827) discovery, in 1800, of a battery using discs of silver and zinc gave rise to the voltaic pile or the first true batteries. Building on Volta's concepts, English chemist Humphry Davy (17781829) first produced sodium from the electrolysis of molten sodium hydroxide in 1807. Subsequently, Davy isolated potassium, another alkali metal, from potassium hydroxide in the same year. Lithium was discovered in 1817.

Studies of the spectra of elements and compounds spawned further discoveries. German chemist Robert Bunsen's (18111999) invention of the famous laboratory burner that bears his name allowed for the development of new methods for the analysis of the elemental structure of compounds. Working with Russian-born scientist Gustav Kirchhoff (18241887) Bunsen's advances made possible flame analysis (a technique now commonly known as atomic emission spectroscopy [AES]) and established the fundamental principles and techniques of spectroscopy. Bunsen examined the spectra (i.e., component colors), emitted when a substance was subjected to intense flame. Bunsen's keen observation that flamed elements that emit light only at specific wavelengthsand that each element produces a characteristic spectraalong with Kirchhoff's work on black body radiation set the stage for subsequent development of quantum theory . Using his own spectroscopic techniques, Bunsen discovered the elements cesium and rubidium.

Using the spectroscopic techniques pioneered by Bunsen, other nineteenth century scientists began to deduce the chemical composition of stars. These discoveries were of profound philosophical importance to society because they proved that Earth did not lie in a privileged or unique portion of the universe. Indeed, the elements found on Earth, particularly those associated with life, were found to be commonplace in the cosmos. In 1868, French astronomer P.J.C. Janssen (18241907) and English astronomer, Norman Lockyer (18361920), used spectroscopic analysis to identify helium on the Sun . For the first time an element was first discovered outside the confines of Earth.

See also Atomic mass and weight; Atomic number; Big Bang theory; Stellar life cycle

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chemical elements

chemical elements

Name

Symbol

Atomic number

Relative atomic mass1

Valency point °C

Melting point °C

Boiling Point °C

Date of discovery

1 Relative atomic mass: values given in parentheses are for radioactive elements whose relative atomic mass cannot be given precisely without knowledge of origin, and is the atomic mass number of the isotope of longest known half-life

2 Also called hahnium, nielsbohrium, rutherfordium, or element 105

3 Also called unnilquadium (Unq) or element 104

4 Also called wolfram

Actinium

Ac

89

(227)

――

1230

3200

1899

Aluminium

Al

13

26.98154

3

660.2

2350

1827

Americium

Am

95

(243)

3, 4, 5, 6

995

2600

1944

Antimony

Sb

51

121.75

3.5

630.5

1750

c.1000 bc

Argon

Ar

18

39.948

0

―189.4

―185.9

1894

Arsenic

As

33

74.9216

3.5

613

――

1250

Astatine

At

85

(210)

1, 3, 5, 7

302

377

1940

Barium

Ba

56

137.34

2

725

1640

1808

Berkelium

Bk

97

(247)

3, 4

986

――

1949

Beryllium

Be

4

9.01218

2

1285

2470

1798

Bismuth

Bi

83

208.9804

3, 5

271.3

1560

1753

Boron

B

5

10.81

3

2079

3700

1808

Bromine

Br

35

79.904

1, 3, 5, 7

―7.2

58.8

1826

Cadmium

Cd

48

112.40

2

320.9

765

1817

Caesium

Cs

55

132.9054

1

284

678

1860

Calcium

Ca

20

40.08

2

839

1484

1808

Californium

Cf

98

(251)

――

――

――

1950

Carbon

C

6

12.011

2.4

3550

4200

――

Cerium

Ce

58

140.12

3, 4

798

3257

1803

Chlorine

Cl

17

35.453

1, 3, 5, 7

―101

―34.6

1774

Chromium

Cr

24

51.996

2, 3, 6

1890

2672

1797

Cobalt

Co

27

58.9332

2, 3

1495

2870

1735

Copper

Cu

29

63.546

1, 2

1083

2567

c.8000 bc

Curium

Cm

96

(247)

3

1340

――

1944

Dubnium3

Db

104

(261)

――

――

――

1969

Dysprosium

Dy

66

162.50

3

1409

2335

1896

Einsteinium

Es

99

(254)

――

――

――

1952

Erbium

Er

68

167.26

3

1522

2863

1843

Europium

Eu

63

151.96

2, 3

822

1597

1896

Fermium

Fm

100

(257)

――

――

――

1952

Fluorine

F

9

18.9984

1

―219.6

―188.1

1886

Francium

Fr

87

(223)

1

30

650

1939

Gadolinium

Gd

64

157.25

3

1311

3233

1880

Gallium

Ga

31

69.72

2, 3

29.78

2403

1875

Germanium

Ge

32

72.59

4

937.4

2830

1886

Gold

Au

79

196.9665

1, 3

1063

2800

――

Hafnium

Hf

72

178.49

4

2227

4602

1923

Helium

He

2

4.0026

0

―272

268.9

1895

Holmium

Ho

67

164.9304

3

1470

2300

1878

Hydrogen

H

1

1.0079

1

―259.1

―252.9

1766

Indium

In

49

114.82

3

156.6

2080

1863

Iodine

I

53

126.9045

1, 3, 5, 7

113.5

184.4

1811

Iridium

Ir

77

192.22

3, 4

2410

4130

1804

Iron

Fe

26

55.847

2, 3

1540

2760

c.4000 bc

Krypton

Kr

36

83.80

0

―156.6

―152.3

1898

Lanthanum

La

57

138.9055

3

920

3454

1839

Lawrencium

Lr

103

(256)

――

――

――

1961

Lead

Pb

82

207.2

2, 4

327.5

1740

――

Lithium

Li

3

6.941

1

180.5

1347

1817

Lutetium

Lu

71

174.97

3

1656

3315

1907

Magnesium

Mg

12

24.305

2

648.8

1090

1808

Manganese

Mn

25

54.9380

2, 3, 4, 6, 7

1244

1962

1774

Mendelevium

Md

101

(258)

――

――

――

1955

Mercury

Hg

80

200.59

1, 2

―38.9

356.6

c.1500 bc

Molybdenum

Mo

42

95.94

3, 4, 6

2610

5560

1778

Neodymium

Nd

60

144.24

3

1010

3068

1885

Neon

Ne

10

20.179

0

―248.7

―246.1

1898

Neptunium

Np

93

237.0482

4, 5, 6

640

3902

1940

Nickel

N i

28

58.70

2, 3

1453

2732

1751

Niobium

Nb

41

92.9064

3, 5

2468

4742

1801

Nitrogen

N

7

14.0067

3, 5

―210

―195.8

1772

Nobelium

No

102

(255)

――

――

――

1958

Osmium

Os

76

190.2

2, 3, 4, 8

3045

5027

1903

Oxygen

O

8

15.9994

2

―218.4

―183

1774

Palladium

Pd

46

106.4

2, 4, 6

1552

3140

1803

Phosphorus

P

15

30.97376

3, 5

44.1

280

1669

Platinum

Pt

78

195.09

2, 4

1772

3800

1735

Plutonium

Pu

94

(244)

3, 4, 5, 6

641

3232

1940

Polonium

Po

84

(209)

――

254

962

1898

Potassium

K

19

39.098

1

63.2

777

1807

Praseodymium

Pr

59

140.9077

3

931

3512

1885

Promethium

Pm

61

(145)

3

1080

2460

1941

Protactinium

Pa

91

231.0359

――

1200

4000

1913

Radium

Ra

88

226.0254

2

700

1140

1898

Radon

Rn

86

(222)

0

―71

―61.8

1899

Rhenium

Re

75

186.207

――

3180

5627

1925

Rhodium

Rh

45

102.9055

3

1966

3727

1803

Rubidium

Rb

37

85.4678

1

38.8

688

1861

Ruthenium

Ru

44

101.07

3, 4, 6, 8

2310

3900

1827

Samarium

Sm

62

150.35

2, 3

1072

1791

1879

Scandium

Sc

21

44.9559

3

1539

2832

1879

Selenium

Se

34

78.96

2, 4, 6

217

684.9

1817

Silicon

Si

14

28.086

4

1410

2355

1823

Silver

Ag

47

107.868

1

961.9

2212

c.4000 bc

Sodium

Na

11

22.98977

1

97.8

882

1807

Strontium

Sr

38

87.62

2

769

1384

1808

Sulphur

S

16

32.06

2, 4, 6

112.8

444.7

――

Tantalum

Ta

73

180.9479

5

2996

5425

1802

Technetium

Tc

43

(97)

6, 7

2172

4877

1937

Tellurium

Te

52

127.60

2, 4, 6

449.5

989.8

1782

Terbium

Tb

65

158.9254

3

1360

3041

1843

Thallium

Tl

81

204.37

1, 3

303.5

1457

1861

Thorium

Th

90

232.0381

4

1750

4790

1828

Thulium

Tm

69

168.9342

3

1545

1947

1879

Tin

Sn

50

118.69

2, 4

232

2270

c.3500 bc

Titanium

Ti

22

47.90

3, 4

1660

3287

1791

Tungsten§

W

74

183.85

6

3410

5660

1783

Unnilpentium2

Unp

105

(262)

――

――

――

1970

Uranium

U

92

238.029

4, 6

1132

3818

1789

Vanadium

V

23

50.9414

3, 5

1890

3380

1801

Xenon

Xe

54

131.30

0

―111.9

―107.1

1898

Ytterbium

Yb

70

173.04

2, 3

824

1193

1907

Yttrium

Y

39

88.9059

3

1510

3300

1828

Zinc

Zn

30

65.38

2

419.6

907

1800

Zirconium

Zr

40

91.22

4

1852

4377

1789


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"chemical elements." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"chemical elements." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chemical-elements

"chemical elements." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chemical-elements