The Charge of an Atom

Since the number of protons (positive charges) always equals the number of elec­trons (negative charges) in an atom, positive charges equal negative charges and atoms in the elemental state have no charge. Only when an atom takes an electron from another atom does the particle become charged. This charged form of the atom is known as an ion. Positively charged ions are called cations, and negatively charged ions are called anions. For instance, when chlorine accepts an electron from sodium, the sodium ion that is formed will have one more proton than electrons. It will therefore have a positive charge and be called a cation. The chlorine (or chloride) ion will have one more electron than protons. It will take on a negative charge and be called an anion. The compound formed by this transfer of electrons is sodium chloride or table salt, which is nothing like the highly reactive sodium or extremely poisonous chlorine from which it was formed.


Energy Levels

Until now we have focused on the nucleus. Lets turn our attention to the electrons, which surround the nucleus of the atom. Electrons are located in energy levels a term which has replaced the word shells, which was once used to describe the location of electrons. The word shell suggests a fixed position, which is far from reality. We will use energy level to describe the possible location of electrons.

There are seven energy levels. Each has a specific maximum number of electrons that can exist in it. The number of electrons, which an energy level can hold is equal to 2nl where n = energy level. The letter n represents the principal quantum number that specifies the energy level of the atom in which an electron is located. The chart below identifies the various energy levels and maximum number of electrons possible. The energy level closest to the nucleus is represented by energy level 1.


Electron Energy Levels



Energy Sublevels (Orbitals) Within each principal energy level is one or more energy sub levels (Orbitals) or subshells. The number of sublevels possible for any one principal energy level is equal to the value of the quantum number (n) for that energy level. While there are theoretically 7 possible sublevels, only four are actually used for the known elements. The others are not currently needed. Sublevels are numbered with consecutive whole numbers. The first sublevel is 0 followed by numbers 1 through 6. These numbers are the azimuth at quantum numbers. The value of can never be greater than n.


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