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# Atom and Atomic Mass

Individual atoms are very small and it is difficult to measure their masses. You can measure the mass of macroscopic materials in gram or kilogram. The mass of an atom is measured in atomic mass unit (amu).

ATOM AND ATOMIC MASS

As you know, anything that has mass and occupies space is called matter. Atoms are the building blocks of matter. Since matter has mass, it must be due to its atoms. According to the modern atomic theory, an atom contains subatomic particles such as protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons and neutrons have considerable mass, but electrons don't have such a considerable mass. Thus, the mass of an atom is mainly contributed by its protons and neutrons and hence the sum of the number of protons and neutrons of an atom is called its mass number.

Individual atoms are very small and it is difficult to measure their masses. You can measure the mass of macroscopic materials in gram or kilogram. The mass of an atom is measured in atomic mass unit (amu).

Atomic mass unit is one-twelfth of the mass of a carbon- 12 atom; an isotope of carbon, which contains 6 protons and 6 neutrons.

(Note: The symbol ŌĆśamuŌĆÖ is no longer used in the modern system and instead, it uses the symbol ŌĆśuŌĆÖ to denote unified atomic mass. The mass of a proton or neutron is approximately 1 amu).

## 1.Relative Atomic Mass (RAM)

As an atom is very small, its absolute mass cannot be determined directly. The early pioneers of chemistry used to measure the atomic mass of an atom relative to an atom of another element. They measured the masses of equal number of atoms of two or more elements at a time, to determine their relative masses. They established one element as a standard, gave it an arbitrary value of atomic mass and using this value they measured the relative mass of other elements. The mass obtained by this way is called relative atomic mass. In the beginning, the mass of hydrogen atom was chosen as a standard and masses of other atoms were compared with it, because of the existence of isotopic character of hydrogen (1H1, 1H2, 1H3). Later hydrogen atom was replaced by oxygen atom as the standard. Now, the stable isotope of carbon (C-12) with atomic mass 12 is used as the standard for measuring the relative atomic mass of an element.

Relative atomic mass of an element is the ratio between the average mass of its isotopes 1/12th to part of the mass of a carbon-12 atom. It is denoted as Ar. It is otherwise called ŌĆ£Standard Atomic WeightŌĆØ.

Relative Atomic Mass Modern methods of determination of atomic mass by Mass Spectrometry uses C-12 as standard. For most of the elements, the relative atomic mass is very closer to a whole number and it is rounded off to a whole number, to make calculations easier. Table 7.1 lists some of the elements of periodic table and their Ar values. ## 2.Average Atomic Mass (AAM)

How can one measure the atomic mass of an element? It is somewhat more complicated because most of the naturally occuring elements exist as a mixture of isotopes, each of which has its own mass. Thus, it is essential to consider this isotopic mixture while calculating the atomic mass of an element.

The average atomic mass of an element is the weighted average of the masses of its naturally occurring isotopes.

But, the abundance of isotopes of each element may differ. So, the abundancy of all these isotopes are taken into consideration while calculating the atomic mass. Then, what do we mean by a weighted average? Let us consider an element which exists as a mixture of 50% of an isotope having a mass of 9 amu, and 50% of another isotope having a mass of 10 amu. Then, its average atomic mass is calculated by the following equation:  Average atomic mass = (Mass of 1st isotope ├Ś % abundance of 1st isotope) + (Mass of 2nd isotope ├Ś % abundance of 2nd isotope)

Thus, for the given element the average

atomic mass = (9 ├Ś 50/100) + (10 x 50/100)

= 4.5 + 5 = 9.5 amu (Note: In the calculations involving percentages, you need to convert percentage abundance into fractional abundance. For example, 50 percent is converted into 50/100 or 0.50 as shown in the a foresaid calculation.)

The atomic masses of elements, given in the periodic table, are average atomic masses. Sometimes, the term atomic weight is used to mean average atomic mass. It is observed, from the periodic table that atomic masses of most of the elements are not whole numbers. For instance, the atomic mass of carbon given in the periodic table is 12.01 amu, not 12.00 amu. The reason is that while calculating the atomic mass of carbon, both of its natural isotopes such as carbon-12. and carbon- 13 are considered. The natural abundance of C-12 and C-13 are 98.90 % and 1.10 % respectively. The average of the atomic mass of carbon is calculated as follows:

Average atomic mass of carbon = (12 ├Ś 98.9/100 )  + (13 ├Ś  1.1/100)

= (12 ├Ś 0.989) + (13 ├Ś 0.011)

= 11.868 + 0.143 = 12.011 amu

So it is important to understand that if it is mentioned that the atomic mass of carbon is 12 amu, it refers to the average atomic mass of the carbon isotopes, not the mass of the individual atoms of carbon. ## Calculation of average atomic mass - Solved Examples

Example 1: Oxygen is the most abundant element in both the EarthŌĆÖs crust and the human body. It exists as a mixture of three stable isotopes in nature as shown in Table 7.3: The atomic mass of oxygen = (15.9949 ├Ś 0.99757) + (16.9991 ├Ś 0.00038) + (17.9992 ├Ś 0.00205)

= 15.999 amu.

Example 2: Boron naturally occurs as a mixture of boron-10 (5 protons + 5 neutrons) and boron-11 (5 protons + 6 neutrons) isotopes. The percentage abundance of B-10 is 20 and that of B-11 is 80. Then, the atomic mass of boron is calculated as follows:

Atomic mass of boron = (10 ├Ś  20/100) + (11 ├Ś  80/100)

= (10 ├Ś 0.20) + (11 ├Ś 0.80)

= 2 + 8.8

= 10.8 amu

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10th Science : Chapter 7 : Atoms and Molecules : Atom and Atomic Mass |