Atoms vs. Elements

Difference Between Atoms and Elements

We call anything that we see and feel around us as the matter. This matter, consisting of both humans and animals, with plants and non living things like water and rocks, is composed of very small particles that are considered basic structural units of a matter.

The entire matter, whether solid, liquid or gas, is composed of tiny particles called atoms, and this principle applies to all forms of life as well as non-living things. The word atom comes from the Greek word Atomos meaning indivisible. The elements are substances that are pure and consist of atoms of a single type only as iron, copper, oxygen, aluminum, etc. The reason we associate the word pure with elements is that they can not be broken into simpler substances. If you take a piece of gold and break it in pieces, all pieces are still pieces of gold and you can continue until you reach the level of atoms. Each atom of gold is always gold, which implies that it still retains all the fundamental properties of gold. If, however, you break any of the gold atoms, you will receive subatomic particles such as electrons, protons and neutrons that are not gold.

Thus it is clear that atom is the smallest quantity of an element beyond which it is not possible to break an element. We are aware of the structure of an atom that is composed of electrons, protons and neutrons. It has a nucleus containing protons and neutrons while the electrons revolve in orbits around the nucleus. Knowledge of the atom has come earlier than the elements. The world was aware of the word element when the theory of the periodic table was discovered and the elements were placed in the table based on their atomic numbers.


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