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What are things made of?

Atoms are shown here as coloured balls.Atoms are shown here as coloured balls.Everything in the Universe, including the air we breathe, is made up of extremely tiny building blocks called atoms. They are so small, you would not even be able to see one under a very powerful microscope. A grain of sand alone may contain over a 100 million billion billion atoms.


Inside an atom, electrons orbit the nucleus.Inside an atom, electrons orbit the nucleus.

Inside an atom

An atom is like a tiny ball. Inside is mostly empty space. At the centre of an atom lies its nucleus. This is made up of even smaller particles, called protons and neutrons. Whizzing around the nucleus are more tiny particles, called electrons. 



Things made of the element carbonThings made of the element carbonThere are around 100 different kinds of atoms that occur naturally. A substance made from just one kind of atom is known as a chemical element. One element differs from another by the number of electrons and protons it has in each of its atoms (sulphur, for example, has 16 of each, while lead has 82).

Each element has different individual properties. They can be grouped together according to their general type. Some elements, for example oxygen, are gases. Others, for example copper, are metals. Still others, for example carbon, are non-metals.

A hydrogen atom measures about one ten millionth of a millimetre across.

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