Chemistry » Essential Ideas in Chemistry » Atoms And Compounds

Atoms and Compounds

The Atom as the Building Block of Matter

We have seen that different materials have different properties. But what would we find if we were to break down a material into the parts that make it up (i.e. it’s microscopic structure)? And how is it that this microscopic structure is able to give matter all its different properties?

The answer lies in the smallest building block of matter: the atom. It is the type of atoms, and the way in which they are arranged in a material, that affects the properties of that substance. This is similar to building materials. We can use bricks, steel, cement, wood, straw (thatch), mud and many other things to build structures from. The choice of atoms affects the properties of matter in the same way as the choice of building material affects the properties of the structure,

It is not often that substances are found in atomic form (just as you seldom find a building or structure made from one building material). Normally, atoms are bonded (joined) to other atoms to form compounds or molecules. It is only in the noble gases (e.g. helium, neon and argon) that atoms are found individually and are not bonded to other atoms. We looked at some of the reasons for this in earlier chapters.

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