According to the National Science Foundation, isotopes are important both to help scientists understand the makeup of atoms in a theoretical sense as well as due to the unique characteristics isotopes of certain elements may have. Isotopes can be unstable and provide opportunities for fission, or they may decay into entirely new isotopes or elements. The specific isotopes present in molecules can serve as atomic-level fingerprints, as well.
The discovery of isotopes led to a new understanding of atomic structure, explaining why different samples of a given element might behave in different ways. For example, there are three stable isotopes of oxygen, and water molecules containing the lighter isotopes evaporate slightly faster than the heavier versions. Heavier oxygen molecules tend to condense out of water vapor more quickly, as well, so the water that falls from rain clouds tends to become atomically lighter as the storm progresses.
Isotopes can also be unstable, such as the radioactive elements that power nuclear fission. When these atoms decay, the particles and energy they emit can be harnessed in weapons as uncontrolled reactions or nuclear reactors as controlled reactions. Isotopes are also important in forensics because the ratio of isotopes in a given sample of material can identify its origin. If two samples of lead contain the same mix of isotopes, for instance, it is likely that the samples came from the same source.Learn More
An atom is the basic unit of a chemical element, and the two main regions of this structure are the nucleus and electrons. The nucleus is positively charged, while the electrons are negatively charged and orbit the nucleus.Full Answer >
Ethanol is highly polar. Each molecule has a hydroxyl group at one end, with oxygen bound to hydrogen, which is highly electronegative and enables the molecule to form strong hydrogen bonds with other polar molecules. The other end of the ethanol molecule, however, is non-polar.Full Answer >
Elements are classified as metals, nonmetals or metalloids. Noble gases are classified separately, although they are sometimes grouped with non-metals despite having different properties.Full Answer >
The columns on the periodic table of elements are called groups. The elements in a group share the same configuration of valence electrons, which gives the elements similar chemical properties. The number of valence electrons in a group is sometimes represented with a Roman numeral above the column.Full Answer >