Why does an extra proton here or there make such a difference in the properties of an element?


Elements like sulfur and chlorine or gold and mercury seem really different in their chemical properties but are right next to each other on the periodic table.

In: Chemistry

4 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Protons actually have little influence over the way atoms interact with one another. Electrons, on the other hand, are the subatomic particle capable of coming into contact (so to speak) with other atoms.

Electrons live in different orbits around the nucleus. The inner orbits don’t interact much with other atoms, so we can ignore them and focus instead on the outer orbits. The number of electrons in the outermost orbit determines how an element will interact with other elements. Will it lend it’s extra electrons out to another atom? Will it borrow electrons from somewhere else? Is it happy being by itself? All this is determined by the electrons in the outer orbit.

The periodic table is designed so that elements who behave similarly are grouped together. They are not, however, grouped by being next to one another. Instead, they are grouped in columns.

For example, all of the elements in the left-most column of the periodic table have one element in their outer shell. They behave similarly when introduced to other elements and compounds. They all react explosively when introduced to water.

The elements in the far right column, on the other hand, have full outer electron shells. They are largely non-reactive, and they are called the nobel gasses.

There are other ways to group elements, but that’s the basics.

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