Atoms are also called “elements” because they are fundamental building blocks nature uses for creating life and for producing raw materials. Their properties, affinities, possibilities and limitations determine what kind of combinations they will enter into to form “molecules”. Other factors involved are the physical ambient conditions these atoms are embedded in, the presence of energy and/or matter that accelerates or promotes interactions.

Not only nature, but Man also, uses atoms to produce new molecules. The most innovative field of science involved in materials production is “nanoscience”. The practical exponent of this science is “nanotechnology”.

New materials and structures that are manufactured using nanotechnology, are produced by combining individual atoms into bigger structures. The size of these elements are less than 100 nanometer, hence the name nanotechnology (1 nanometer = 1 billionth of a meter = 10-9 meter or 0,000 000 001 millimeter). These new materials show other properties than those who are naturally occuring in nature or are used in traditional industrial manufacturing. That way nanotechnology opens a door to hundreds of new applications in the fields of mechanics, electronics, medicine, space exploration, airline construction, building materials and so on.


foto: nanotechnology in perspective  (author: Sureshbup)

Interactions between atoms

Atoms always want to interact with other atoms. Depending on the atom these interactions can occur with the same kind of atom, another kind or a combination of both. The result of these interactions are what we call “molecules”. What kind of interaction occurs depends again on internal and external factors.

So an oxygen atom (O) can react with another oxygen atom. The resulting molecule is O2 (oxygen gas) and hydrogen (H) can react with hydrogen to form H2 (hydrogen gas). But oxygen can also react with sulfur (S) to form SO2 (sulfur dioxide) or with carbon (C) to form CO2 (carbon dioxide) or with nitrogen (N) to form NO (nitrogen oxide). Hydrogen can react with oxygen to form water (H2O). The molecules formed that way can be gaseous like O2, liquid as H2O or solid as NaCl (natrium chloride= kitchen salt).


foto: carbon dioxide bubbles in gaseous water (author:Guy De Witte)

The chemical formula always shows how many atoms of each kind are involved in the molecule. So O2 consists of two oxygen atoms, H2 consists of two hydrogen atoms and H2O of two hydrogen atoms combined with one oxygen atom. Kitchen salt (NaCl) consists of one sodium atom combined with one chlorine atom. Glass mostly is composed of silicon dioxide (SiO2), formed by combination of one silicon atom and two oxygen atoms.


foto: silicon dioxide (author: LHcheM)

Some molecules are composed of multiple kinds of atoms. The pigment “white lead” for example has as formule Pb2CO3(OH)2 and contains two lead atoms, one carbon atom, five oxygen atoms and two hydrogen atoms. All abovementioned combinations are considered to be inorganic, as opposed to organic.

Organic compounds have molecules containing basically carbon (C) and hydrogen (H), often in combination with other atoms. They can form very complex structures. Simple organic compounds are CH4 (methane) and C2H5OH (ethylalcohol = ethanol). These simple compounds have mostly a ramified chain structure.


foto: representation of a methane molecule


foto: representation of an ethanol molecule (author: NEUROtiker)

Complex organic compounds show one or more ring structures in their molecules. Examples are C6H6 (benzene), C6H12O6 (glucose), building block of cellulose, and C8H8 (styrene) basic molecule for the production of polystyrene.


foto: glucose molecule (author: NEUROtiker)


foto: styrene molecule (author: Benjah-hmmm27)

to be continued


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