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Rev. Notes > IGCSE > The Nuclear Atom
Previous Topic The Nuclear Atom Next Topic

The structure of an atom Rutherford's atomic model The nucleus
The proton number The nucleon number

The structure of an atom

In 1911 Rutherford proposed the first adequate structure of the atom.

He suggested that an atom consists of a central massive part called the nucleus and electrons revolving round the nucleus.

Most of the space in the atom is empty.

Almost the entire mass of the atom is concentrated in the nucleus which contains protons and neutrons.

The mass of an electron is negligible as compared with that of a proton or a neutron.

The proton being a positively charged particle carries a charge of +e, equal and opposite to the charge on an electron.

Thus the charge on an electron is –e and its numerical value is 1.6 X 10-19 Coulombs.

The mass of an electron is 9.11 X 10-31 kg. The mass of a proton is 1.67 X 10-27 Kg which means that a proton is 1836 times heavier than an electron.

A neutron is a neutral particle as it has no charge. Its mass is nearly equal to that of a proton.

We now believe that the nucleus of an atom is built up of protons and neutrons. The particles that reside inside the nucleus are called nucleons. An atom as a whole is neutral as the number of protons in its nucleus is equal to the number of electrons revolving round it.

Atomic number or charge number of an element is defined as the numbers of electrons revolving round the nucleus which is the same as the number of protons present in the nucleus of an atom.

Thus, Z = number of protons in the nucleus.

The mass of an atom is specified by its mass number which is the total number of protons and neutrons present in the nucleus of the atom. It is denoted by A.

Therefore, A = Number of protons + Number of neutrons

The number of neutrons in the nucleus is given by, N = A – Z

The nucleus of the atom of an element having X as its chemical symbol is represented by zXA, where A is the mass number of element X and Z is its atomic number or charge number.

Hydrogen is the lightest of all the elements and its atoms have the simplest structure.

An atom of Hydrogen consists of one proton in its nucleus and one electron revolving round the nucleus.

Therefore, its Z = 1 and A = 1. The nucleus of Hydrogen is symbolically represented by 1H1.

The next heavier element is helium having two protons and two neutrons. It has Z = 2 and A = 4. Its nucleus is represented by 2He4.



Number of protons

Number of neutrons

Number of electrons



























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Diaf Said :
Very good notes
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  10/01/12 11:50 AM


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