10 Difference Between Atom and Element (With Table)

When I started teaching chemistry twenty years ago, I realized that many learners usually have a hard time comprehending some terminologies.

I did research and came up with this article to ease the confusion among learners. Chemistry is a branch of science that comprises terms like molecules, mixtures, atoms, compounds, and elements.

So, what is the main difference between atom and element? The former is the basic unit of an element and the latter is the purest form of a substance that cannot be split into several parts.

Elements occur on a periodic table. They are classified as metals, metalloids, and non-metals. Atoms have a unique mass, size, and name. It is important to understand the difference between elements and atoms.

Difference Between Atom and Element

Comparison Table (Atom vs Element)

Basic Terms Atom Element
DefinitionIt is a basic unit of elements.It is the purest and simplest form of a substance that cannot be split further.
Consists ofElectrons, protons and neutronsComprise of one atom
CombinationAtoms can be combined to form an element.Through a chemical reaction, elements are combined to form a molecule.
SizeTiny particles that can be seen via a microscope.Bigger and heavier with mass.
Total number92 atoms in nature118 elements in nature
SignificanceUsed in determining the atomic number and mass.Used in understanding the periodic table in chemistry.

What Is an Atom?

An atom is the basic unit of an element. An atom has a nucleus at the center. The unit comprises electrons, protons, and neutrons.

The protons and neutrons are found in the nucleus. These constituents help to determine the atomic number and mass of an atom. Electrons are negatively charged and protons are positively charged.

The valency of an atom is determined by the electrons. An atom can either lose or gain electrons in an ionic reaction.

What Is an Element?

An element is the simplest form of a substance. Elements occur on a periodic table and usually in pure form. Elements can be metals, metalloids, and non-metals.

Examples of elements are hydrogen, carbon, magnesium, neon, chlorine, oxygen, and calcium. Elements can combine through a chemical reaction to form a molecule.

Metals need to lose outermost electrons to become stable while non-metals need to gain extra electrons in their outermost energy level to become stable.

Main Differences between Atom and Element

  1. Atom is the basic unit of an element whereas an element is the simplest form of a substance.
  2. Element comprises one type of atom while atom consists of protons, electrons, and neutrons.
  3. Elements can combine with each other to form molecules while atoms can combine to form an element.
  4. Atoms are very tiny particles whereas elements are heavier and bigger.
  5. There are 92 atoms in nature while 118 elements in nature.
  6. Elements are found in the periodic table whereas atoms ideal for determining atomic number or mass.

Similarities between Atoms and Elements

  • Both are mention in physic and chemistry.
  • Both have mass and size.
  • Both occur in nature.

In Conclusion

Both elements and atoms are chemical terminologies that can confuse learners. Atoms are the smallest and can be seen via a microscope. Elements are heavier and bigger when compared to atoms.

The main difference between elements and atoms is that the former is the simplest form of a substance while the latter is the smallest basic unit of an element.

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