Introduction to Periodic Variations in Element Properties
The elements in groups (vertical columns) of the periodic table exhibit similar chemical behavior. This similarity occurs because the members of a group have the same number and distribution of electrons in their valence shells. However, there are also other patterns in chemical properties on the periodic table. For example, as we move down a group, the metallic character of the atoms increases. Oxygen, at the top of group 16 (6A), is a colorless gas; in the middle of the group, selenium is a semiconducting solid; and, toward the bottom, polonium is a silver-grey solid that conducts electricity.
As we go across a period from left to right, we add a proton to the nucleus and an electron to the valence shell with each successive element. As we go down the elements in a group, the number of electrons in the valence shell remains constant, but the principal quantum number increases by one each time. An understanding of the electronic structure of the elements allows us to examine some of the properties that govern their chemical behavior. These properties vary periodically as the electronic structure of the elements changes. They are (1) size (radius) of atoms and ions, (2) ionization energies, and (3) electron affinities.
Explore visualizations of the periodic trends discussed in the next couple of lessons (and many more trends) at this website. With just a few clicks, you can create three-dimensional versions of the periodic table showing atomic size or graphs of ionization energies from all measured elements.