Question

How can you differentiate an element from a compound?

Asked by: Jerome de Leon

Answer

The smallest possible piece of an element is an atom. The smallest possible piece of a compound is a molecule which, in turn, is composed of any number of atoms. There are only 92 different atoms (therefore, 92 elements) that exist in nature. An unlimited number of molecules (ie. compounds) can be formed from those 92 atomic building blocks.

Elements are recognized by the inability to break them down any further by chemical or physical means into simpler components. Water, for example, is a compound made up of molecules. Each of those molecules contains 2 hydrogen and 1 oxygen atom. An electric current can break down the H2O water molecule and produced hydrogen and oxygen gas. There is no further chemical or physical way to break down hydrogen or oxygen, since they are composed of atoms.

Atoms can only be broken into simpler atoms by nuclear techniques that involve splitting atomic nuclei. Hydrogen, with the simplest possible nucleus, cannot be split into any simple atoms but oxygen nuclei could be.

Answered by: Paul Walorski, B.A., Part-time Physics Instructor

Search

Loading






Science Quote

'The mathematician's patterns, like the painter's or the poets, must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in the world for ugly mathematics.'

Godfrey Hardy
(1877-1947)
Science Sidebar | Science Education Articles
Cool Summer Science Projects

Why not make science a part of your family’s summer? Perhaps you can set aside one day a week for outdoor projects—maybe Mad Scientist Monday or Scientific Saturday? Here are a few ideas to help get you started. Continue reading ...

10 Ways to Keep Your Kids Interested In Science

Young children are natural scientists: they ask questions, pick up sticks and bugs outside, and are curious about the world around them. But as they get a bit older, many kids gradually lose their interest in science. They might see it as just another task at school, something that doesn't apply to their lives. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, so here are ten ways you can remind your kids that science is everywhere. Most of these are fun for adults, too! Continue reading ...

Top Selling

Here are our physics & astronomy bestsellers:
Magnetic Levitator - Classic
3D Magnetic Field Tube
KonusScience 5 Way Microscope Kit
Revolving Multi-Color Fiberoptic Light
Periscope
Tin Can Robot 4M Kit
Mini Plasma Ball
Solar Radiometer
12 inch Galileo Thermometer
Wood Grain Newtons Cradle

Sponsors

USC University of Southern California Dornsife College Physics and Astronomy Department McMaster University Physics and Astronomy Department