Bulk properties

Size of atoms

All elements are made up of atoms. Individual atoms are extremely small. For example, 1 g of carbon contains about 5 x 1022 (50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) carbon atoms.

Each individual atom has a very small diameter - a typical atom has a diameter of between 1 x 10-10 and 5 x 10-10 m. In the same way that the kilometre (km) is used to describe distances longer than 1 metre, scientists use words to describe lengths smaller than 1 metre.

Unit nameUnit symbolMeaning
Millimetremm1 x 10-3 m (0.001 m)
Micrometreμm1 x 10-6 m (0.000,001 m)
Nanometrenm1 x 10-9 m (0.000,000,001 m)
Question

A typical atom has a diameter of about 3 x 10-10 m. Express this diameter in nanometres (nm).

3 x 10-10 m is 0.3 nm

Bulk properties

Diamond, graphite and buckyballs are all forms of the element carbon. This means that all three substances contain carbon atoms only. Although these substances only contain carbon atoms, they have different properties. For example:

The properties of a substance, therefore, are not the same as the properties of an individual atom. Instead, the properties of a substance depend on the way in which the atoms have been bonded together. These are called the bulk properties of a substance.

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