1. Atom and its structure


Isotopes are various forms of an element that have the same number of protons, but a different number of neutrons.

What is an Isotope?

Isotopes are various forms of an element that have the same number of protons but a different number of neutrons. Some elements, such as carbon, potassium, and uranium, have multiple naturally-occurring isotopes. Isotopes are defined first by their element and then by the sum of the protons and neutrons present.

  • Carbon-12 (or 12C) contains six protons, six neutrons, and six electrons; therefore, it has a mass number of 12 amu (six protons and six neutrons).
  • Carbon-14 (or 14C) contains six protons, eight neutrons, and six electrons; its atomic mass is 14 amu (six protons and eight neutrons).

While the mass of individual isotopes is different, their physical and chemical properties remain mostly unchanged.

Isotopes do differ in their stability. Carbon-12 (12C) is the most abundant of the carbon isotopes, accounting for 98.89% of carbon on Earth. Carbon-14 (14C) is unstable and only occurs in trace amounts. Unstable isotopes most commonly emit alpha particles (He2+) and electrons. Neutrons, protons, and positrons can also be emitted and electrons can be captured to attain a more stable atomic configuration (lower level of potential energy ) through a process called radioactive decay. The new atoms created may be in a high energy state and emit gamma rays which lowers the energy but alone does not change the atom into another isotope. These atoms are called radioactive isotopes or radioisotopes.

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