Below gives definitions of some basic keywords commonly encountered in chemistry. Since chemistry is the study of substances, we begin by looking at the basic unit of a substance, the atom:
Atom - It is the smallest unit of a substance. The identity of a substance will be destroyed if its atom is further divided. Different substances will have different types of atoms.
All atoms are made up of a number of protons, neutrons and electrons. As an example, diagram (left) below shows a schematic representation
of the atom for helium.
The nucleus of an atom consists of protons (each with a positive charge +1) and neutrons (zero charge). The electrons orbit round the nucleus, each with a negative charge of -1. In fact the actual size of a nucleus is very small compare with the overall size (determined by the extension of electrons into space) of an atom.
Diagram on the right shows the relative size of the nucleus (dot), compare to the electron orbital (circle), a schematic description where electrons are located.
All atoms have equal number of protons and electrons. In other words, they are always neutral. Charged atoms, or ions, contain different number of protons and electrons. For example, a +2 ion contains two less elctrons than the number of protons.
Element - It is a substance that cannot be further resolved into simpler substances by chemical means. It consists of a single type of atom of same number of protons. For example, gold and copper are elements with 100% gold atoms and 100% copper atoms, respectively.
Compound - It is a substance made of more than one type of atoms. They are usually formed by a chemical process and atoms are bound together by chemical bonds.
Molecules - This is the smallest unit of a compound. For example, water is dihydrogen oxide. The water molecule consists of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom which bind together by covalent bonds.