What are Elements?
Back in 1869, Dmitri Mendeleev published his famous periodic table of elements, where he grouped the then-known elements into certain groups based on their chemical properties. Up until 2016, many more elements were discovered and added to the system, and the search for new elements is still ongoing. But what are chemical elements exactly?
Basically, they can be regarded as the building blocks of chemistry. Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re fundamental particles (such as electrons or quarks), but, on the scales researched by chemistry, they can be regarded as such. These elements make up all of the visible matter in the universe – you, your computer, your chair, house, this planet, the Sun… They’re made up of a nucleus and electrons orbiting them. The nucleus is a number of protons and neutrons held together by the strong nuclear force. Every element has the same number of protons and electrons, which are oppositely charged so they cancel out, while the number of neutrons can vary. Same elements with a different number of neutrons in their nucleus are called isotopes. For example, a simple hydrogen atom doesn’t have any neutrons – it’s made up of an electron and a proton. If you add a neutron to the hydrogen nucleus, you get deuterium, a hydrogen isotope. There are many distinctions between different elements that can be made, the most common one being that between metals and nonmetals. While nonmetals are mostly grouped on the right-hand side of the periodic table of elements, the metals are mostly on the left-had side. Another interesting characteristic of elements is that they can form molecules – groups of several elements. Note that, if molecules are made up of only one type of element, they aren’t chemical compounds, which we’ll address now.
What are Compounds?
Compounds are groups of many molecules, or molecular entities, of the same kind, where every molecule is built up of the same two or more elements. This means that, for example, a bunch of hydrogen molecules (made up of two hydrogens) are not a compound, but some molecules of water (made up of an oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms) do form a compound. There are a total of four types of chemical compounds, depending on the type of bond between the atoms in molecules that form it: molecules (covalent bonds), ionic compounds (ionic bonds), intermetallic compounds (metallic bonds) and complexes (coordinate covalent bonds).
Similarities between Elements and Compounds
The main similarity between compounds and elements is that they are purely homogenous substances, as opposed to, for example, mixtures. Furthermore, they cannot be separated into their constituent particles by any physical means – no matter how you throw or shake a compound or a group of elements, you won’t be able to change their constituents. The only way this can be achieved is through chemical reaction processes, which both elements and compounds can undergo. Finally, both are composed of the same set of elementary particles that build up the rest of the visible matter in the universe.
- Both compounds and elements can’t be separated into their constituents by physical means
- Both are homogenous substances, as opposed to mixtures
- Both can undergo chemical reactions
- Both are made up of fundamental particles
Summary on Similarities Between Elements and Compounds
Chemical elements and compounds are the building blocks of chemistry. Elements are neatly shown on the periodic table of elements, where they’re grouped based on their common chemical characteristics. Elements can form molecules, which can sometimes become chemical compounds, if they are built up of at least two different elements. The only way to change the constituents of either elements or compounds is via chemical reactions, and not by any physical means. They’re both made up of the same set of fundamental particles, and both are completely homogenous substances, as opposed to, for example, mixtures. The terms “compound” and “element” are often used not only in chemistry, but in other areas as well. They usually represent the same thing – elements are the basic building blocks, and compounds are groups of different elements.
Author: Dr. Howard Fields
Dr. Howard is a Clinical Psychologist and a Professional Writer and he has been partnering with patients to create positive change in their lives for over fifteen years. Dr. Howard integrates complementary methodologies and techniques to offer a highly personalized approach tailored to each patient.