The number of protons in an atom is crucial. It gives you the charge of the nucleus and therefore it gives you the number of electrons needed for a neutral atom. And the number of electrons governs how an atom behaves and reacts chemically with other atoms. In other words, it gives you its properties. So the number of protons makes the atom belong to a particular element. Change the number of protons and you change the element.

The number of neutrons in the nucleus is less crucial. You can change the number of neutrons without changing the chemical properties of the atom. So it behaves in the same way. Atoms with the same proton number but different numbers of neutrons are called isotopes.

Here are the 3 isotopes of hydrogen. The animation shows how they are formed by changing the number of neutrons only.

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A Level Physics Banana skins - Don't slip up!

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