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What is a Chemical Element?

What is a Chemical Element?

In nuclear energy we often talk about the fission or fusion of an atom. However, there are many atoms and each one is part of a chemical element. Uranium atoms are used as nuclear fuel in nuclear power reactors. In this case, uranium is a chemical element. Uranium atoms can have different configurations called isotopes.

What is a chemical element?

A chemical element is a collection of atoms with the same charge of atomic nuclei. The atomic nucleus consists of protons, whose number is equal to the atomic number of the element, and neutrons, whose number may be different. Each chemical element has its Latin name and the chemical symbol consisting of one or a couple of letters, regulated by the IUPAC and includes, in particular, in the periodic table of Mendeleev's elements.

The form of existence of chemical elements in free form are simple substances. It is necessary to distinguish between chemical elements (abstract objects described through their characteristics) and the corresponding material objects: simple substances (with certain physical and chemical properties).

Known chemical elements

As of December 2016, 118 chemical elements are known (with serial numbers from 1 to 118), of which 94 are found in nature (some are only found in small quantities), the remaining 24 are obtained artificially as a result of reactions nuclear.

The synthesis of new elements (not found in nature) with an atomic number greater than that of uranium was initially carried out by repeated capture of neutrons by uranium nuclei under conditions of intense neutron flux in nuclear reactors and even more intense in nuclear conditions.

The right to propose a name to a new chemical element is granted to the discoverers. However, this name must comply with certain rules. Publishing a new discovery is verified within a few years by independent laboratories, and, if confirmed, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry officially approves the name of the new element.

The 118 elements known as of December 2016 have permanent names approved by IUPAC. From the moment of the opening request until the approval of the IUPAC name, the element appears under a temporary systematic name, derived from Latin numbers, forming the numbers in the element's atomic number, and is indicated by a three-letter temporary symbol formed from the first letters of these numbers.

Unopened or unapproved items are often called using the system used by Mendeleev, by the name of the top counterpart in the periodic table, with the addition of the prefixes "ek-" or (rarely) "dvi-", which means Sanskrit numbers "one" and "two" (depending on whether the counterpart is 1 or 2 periods higher).

Symbols of chemical elements

The chemical element symbols are used as abbreviations for the name of the elements. As a symbol, they usually take the initial letter of the element's name and, if necessary, add the next or one of the following. Usually, these are the initial letters of the Latin names of the elements.

Such a system of chemical symbols was proposed in 1814 by the Swedish chemist J. Berzelius. The elements used before the official approval of their permanent names and symbols consist of three letters, which means that the Latin names of the three digits in the decimal notation of their atomic number. The notation system for higher homologues described above (Eka-Rn, Eka-Pb, etc.) is also used.

The smaller numbers next to the element symbol indicate: atomic mass in the upper left, serial number in the lower left, ion charge above, the number of atoms in the molecule in the lower right.

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Last review: February 12, 2020