The atom is the smallest unit of matter. Everything around you is made out of atoms, including cells and molecules. You might think that something so tiny isn’t worth the time to get to know, but have you ever wondered why “stuff” looks and behaves differently? Turns out, it has to do with the atoms. A quick scan of the periodic table might seem like taking a walk through Times Square - colorful, crowded, and confusing. But the periodic table is just an organizational chart for atoms. Using this tool, you can spot patterns in the way atoms behave.
Atom Stuff and Space
So, if atoms are the smallest unit of matter, does that mean there’s nothing smaller? Ha. If only chemistry was that simple. Atoms are made of subatomic particles - protons, neutrons, and electrons. The electrons are light, negatively charged, and whip around the nucleus, a clumped up ball of protons and neutrons. In between the swirling electrons and the nucleus is, well, empty space. And since atoms make up molecules that make up cells that make up us, it’s pretty safe to say that we’re, atomically speaking, mostly empty space.
This Atom, That Atom
If all atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons, then why is there a difference between… let’s say, gold and lead? The secret is in the number of protons. A gold atom has 79 protons, and an atom of lead has 82 protons. As hard as they tried, there was no way alchemists could turn lead to gold. The only way to knock 3 protons off lead is with a particle accelerator. This, of course, is an unbelievably inefficient and expensive way to make gold. Particle accelerators are giant machines that take up hundreds of acres of land. And cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build.
Atoms Affecting Molecule Affecting Life
Why is water a liquid at room temperature when carbon dioxide, a heavier molecule, is a gas? The answer to this question lies in the atoms that make up water and the way they’re positioned. Before humans understood atoms and chemistry, we came up with elaborate explanations for why things are the way they are. Today, atoms pretty much explain it all. For example, why is my hair curly and yours straight? Well, my hair proteins are connected differently than yours. Why? Because the atoms are arranged differently.
A Small Piece of Inspiration
Learning about chemistry, atoms, and all this “stuff” shouldn’t be the reason what kills the magic of life. In fact, chemistry is the magic of life! From something so small comes everything you are, see, and experience. Our atom necklace comes in both gold and silver. But unfortunately, we don’t sell the particle accelerator for you to turn one into the other on a whim. You’ll have to make the decision to purchase one or the other. They also make excellent gifts for chemists, particle accelerator operators, physicists, and alchemy fans.
written by Science with Evie