A chemical element is a chemical species of atom having the same number of in their Atomic nucleus (that is, the same atomic number, or Z). For example, the atomic number of oxygen is 8, so the element oxygen describes all atoms which have 8 protons.
In total, 118 elements have been identified. The first 94 occur naturally on Earth, and the remaining 24 are synthetic elements. There are 80 elements that have at least one stable isotope and 38 that have exclusively , which decay over time into other elements. Iron is the most abundant element (by mass) making up Earth, while oxygen is the most common element in the Earth's crust.
Chemical elements constitute all of the ordinary matter of the universe. However astronomical observations suggest that ordinary observable matter makes up only about 15% of the matter in the universe. The remainder is dark matter; the composition of this is unknown, but it is not composed of chemical elements.
The term "element" is used for atoms with a given number of protons (regardless of whether or not they are Ionization or chemically bonded, e.g. hydrogen in water) as well as for a pure chemical substance consisting of a single element (e.g. hydrogen gas). For the second meaning, the terms "elementary substance" and "simple substance" have been suggested, but they have not gained much acceptance in English language chemical literature, whereas in some other languages their equivalent is widely used (e.g. French language corps simple, Russian language простое вещество). A single element can form multiple substances differing in their structure; they are called Allotropy of the element.
When different elements are chemically combined, with the atoms held together by , they form chemical compounds. Only a minority of elements are found uncombined as relatively pure . Among the more common of such native elements are copper, silver, gold, carbon (as coal, graphite, or ), and sulfur. All but a few of the most inert elements, such as and , are usually found on Earth in chemically combined form, as chemical compounds. While about 32 of the chemical elements occur on Earth in native uncombined forms, most of these occur as mixtures. For example, atmospheric air is primarily a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and argon, and native solid elements occur in , such as that of iron and nickel.
The history of the discovery and use of the elements began with primitive society that found native elements like carbon, sulfur, copper and gold (though the status of these materials as elements was not known at the time). Later civilizations extracted elemental copper, tin, lead and iron from their by smelting, using charcoal. Alchemists and subsequently identified many more; all of the naturally occurring elements were known by 1950.
The properties of the chemical elements are summarized in the periodic table, which organizes the elements by increasing atomic number into rows ("periods") in which the columns ("groups") share recurring ("periodic") physical and chemical properties. Save for unstable radioactive elements with short half-life, all of the elements are available industry, most of them in low degrees of impurity.
Of the 94 naturally occurring elements, those with atomic numbers 1 through 82 each have at least one stable nuclide (except for technetium, element 43 and promethium, element 61, which have no stable isotopes). Isotopes considered stable are those for which no radioactive decay has yet been observed. Elements with atomic numbers 83 through 94 are Radionuclide to the point that radioactive decay of all isotopes can be detected. Some of these elements, notably bismuth (atomic number 83), thorium (atomic number 90), and uranium (atomic number 92), have one or more isotopes with half-lives long enough to survive as remnants of the explosive stellar nucleosynthesis that produced the heavy metals before the formation of our Solar System. At over 1.9 years, over a billion times longer than the current estimated age of the universe, bismuth-209 (atomic number 83) has the longest known alpha decay half-life of any naturally occurring element, and is almost always considered on par with the 80 stable elements. The very heaviest elements (those beyond plutonium, element 94) undergo radioactive decay with half-life so short that they are not found in nature and must be synthesized.
As of 2010, there are 118 known elements (in this context, "known" means observed well enough, even from just a few decay products, to have been differentiated from other elements). Of these 118 elements, 94 occur naturally on Earth. Six of these occur in extreme trace quantities: technetium, atomic number 43; promethium, number 61; astatine, number 85; francium, number 87; neptunium, number 93; and plutonium, number 94. These 94 elements have been detected in the universe at large, in the spectra of stars and also supernovae, where short-lived radioactive elements are newly being made. The first 94 elements have been detected directly on Earth as primordial nuclides present from the formation of the solar system, or as naturally occurring fission or transmutation products of uranium and thorium.
The remaining 24 heavier elements, not found today either on Earth or in astronomical spectra, have been produced artificially: these are all radioactive, with very short half-lives; if any atoms of these elements were present at the formation of Earth, they are extremely likely, to the point of certainty, to have already decayed, and if present in novae have been in quantities too small to have been noted. Technetium was the first purportedly non-naturally occurring element synthesized, in 1937, although trace amounts of technetium have since been found in nature (and also the element may have been discovered naturally in 1925). This pattern of artificial production and later natural discovery has been repeated with several other radioactive naturally occurring rare elements.
List of the elements are available by name, atomic number, density, melting point, boiling point and by symbol, as well as ionization energies of the elements. The nuclides of stable and radioactive elements are also available as a list of nuclides, sorted by length of half-life for those that are unstable. One of the most convenient, and certainly the most traditional presentation of the elements, is in the form of the periodic table, which groups together elements with similar chemical properties (and usually also similar electronic structures).
The number of protons in the atomic nucleus also determines its electric charge, which in turn determines the number of of the atom in its ionization state. The electrons are placed into that determine the atom's various chemical properties. The number of neutrons in a nucleus usually has very little effect on an element's chemical properties (except in the case of hydrogen and deuterium). Thus, all carbon isotopes have nearly identical chemical properties because they all have six protons and six electrons, even though carbon atoms may, for example, have 6 or 8 neutrons. That is why the atomic number, rather than mass number or atomic weight, is considered the identifying characteristic of a chemical element.
The symbol for atomic number is Z.
Most (66 of 94) naturally occurring elements have more than one stable isotope. Except for the isotopes of hydrogen (which differ greatly from each other in relative mass—enough to cause chemical effects), the isotopes of a given element are chemically nearly indistinguishable.
All of the elements have some isotopes that are radioactive (Radionuclide), although not all of these radioisotopes occur naturally. The radioisotopes typically decay into other elements upon radiating an Alpha particle or beta particle. If an element has isotopes that are not radioactive, these are termed "stable" isotopes. All of the known stable isotopes occur naturally (see primordial isotope). The many radioisotopes that are not found in nature have been characterized after being artificially made. Certain elements have no stable isotopes and are composed only of radioactive isotopes: specifically the elements without any stable isotopes are technetium (atomic number 43), promethium (atomic number 61), and all observed elements with atomic numbers greater than 82.
Of the 80 elements with at least one stable isotope, 26 have only one single stable isotope. The mean number of stable isotopes for the 80 stable elements is 3.1 stable isotopes per element. The largest number of stable isotopes that occur for a single element is 10 (for tin, element 50).
Whereas the mass number simply counts the total number of neutrons and protons and is thus a natural (or whole) number, the atomic mass of a single atom is a real number giving the mass of a particular isotope (or "nuclide") of the element, expressed in atomic mass units (symbol: u). In general, the mass number of a given nuclide differs in value slightly from its atomic mass, since the mass of each proton and neutron is not exactly 1 u; since the electrons contribute a lesser share to the atomic mass as neutron number exceeds proton number; and (finally) because of the nuclear binding energy. For example, the atomic mass of chlorine-35 to five significant digits is 34.969 u and that of chlorine-37 is 36.966 u. However, the atomic mass in u of each isotope is quite close to its simple mass number (always within 1%). The only isotope whose atomic mass is exactly a natural number is 12C, which by definition has a mass of exactly 12 because u is defined as 1/12 of the mass of a free neutral carbon-12 atom in the ground state.
The standard atomic weight (commonly called "atomic weight") of an element is the average of the atomic masses of all the chemical element's isotopes as found in a particular environment, weighted by isotopic abundance, relative to the atomic mass unit. This number may be a fraction that is not close to a whole number. For example, the relative atomic mass of chlorine is 35.453 u, which differs greatly from a whole number as it is an average of about 76% chlorine-35 and 24% chlorine-37. Whenever a relative atomic mass value differs by more than 1% from a whole number, it is due to this averaging effect, as significant amounts of more than one isotope are naturally present in a sample of that element.
For example, a copper wire is 99.99% chemically pure if 99.99% of its atoms are copper, with 29 protons each. However it is not isotopically pure since ordinary copper consists of two stable isotopes, 69% 63Cu and 31% 65Cu, with different numbers of neutrons. However, a pure gold ingot would be both chemically and isotopically pure, since ordinary gold consists only of one isotope, 197Au.
The standard state, also known as the reference state, of an element is defined as its thermodynamically most stable state at a pressure of 1 bar and a given temperature (typically at 298.15 K). In thermochemistry, an element is defined to have an enthalpy of formation of zero in its standard state. For example, the reference state for carbon is graphite, because the structure of graphite is more stable than that of the other allotropes.
A more refined classification is often shown in colored presentations of the periodic table. This system restricts the terms "metal" and "nonmetal" to only certain of the more broadly defined metals and nonmetals, adding additional terms for certain sets of the more broadly viewed metals and nonmetals. The version of this classification used in the periodic tables presented here includes: , , alkaline earth metals, , , , post-transition metals, , reactive nonmetals, and . In this system, the alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, and transition metals, as well as the lanthanides and the actinides, are special groups of the metals viewed in a broader sense. Similarly, the reactive nonmetals and the noble gases are nonmetals viewed in the broader sense. In some presentations, the halogens are not distinguished, with astatine identified as a metalloid and the others identified as nonmetals.
When an element has Allotropy with different densities, one representative allotrope is typically selected in summary presentations, while densities for each allotrope can be stated where more detail is provided. For example, the three familiar allotropes of carbon (amorphous carbon, graphite, and diamond) have densities of 1.8–2.1, 2.267, and 3.515 g/cm3, respectively.
Of the 94 naturally occurring elements, 83 are considered primordial and either stable isotope or weakly radioactive. The remaining 11 naturally occurring elements possess Half-life too short for them to have been present at the beginning of the Solar System, and are therefore considered transient elements. Of these 11 transient elements, 5 (polonium, radon, radium, actinium, and protactinium) are relatively common decay products of thorium and uranium. The remaining 6 transient elements (technetium, promethium, astatine, francium, neptunium, and plutonium) occur only rarely, as products of rare decay modes or nuclear reaction processes involving uranium or other heavy elements.
No radioactive decay has been observed for elements with atomic numbers 1 through 82, except 43 (technetium) and 61 (promethium). Observationally stable isotopes of some elements (such as tungsten and lead), however, are predicted to be slightly radioactive with very long half-lives: for example, the half-lives predicted for the observationally stable lead isotopes range from 1035 to 10189 years. Elements with atomic numbers 43, 61, and 83 through 94 are unstable enough that their radioactive decay can readily be detected. Three of these elements, bismuth (element 83), thorium (element 90), and uranium (element 92) have one or more isotopes with half-lives long enough to survive as remnants of the explosive stellar nucleosynthesis that produced the heavy elements before the formation of the Solar System. For example, at over 1.9 years, over a billion times longer than the current estimated age of the universe, bismuth-209 has the longest known alpha decay half-life of any naturally occurring element. The very heaviest 24 elements (those beyond plutonium, element 94) undergo radioactive decay with short half-lives and cannot be produced as daughters of longer-lived elements, and thus are not known to occur in nature at all.
Although earlier precursors to this presentation exist, its invention is generally credited to the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869, who intended the table to illustrate recurring trends in the properties of the elements. The layout of the table has been refined and extended over time as new elements have been discovered and new theoretical models have been developed to explain chemical behavior.
Use of the periodic table is now ubiquitous within the academic discipline of chemistry, providing an extremely useful framework to classify, systematize and compare all the many different forms of chemical behavior. The table has also found wide application in physics, geology, biology, materials science, engineering, agriculture, medicine, nutrition, environmental health, and astronomy. Its principles are especially important in chemical engineering.
For purposes of international communication and trade, the official names of the chemical elements both ancient and more recently recognized are decided by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), which has decided on a sort of international English language, drawing on traditional English names even when an element's chemical symbol is based on a Latin or other traditional word, for example adopting "gold" rather than "aurum" as the name for the 79th element (Au). IUPAC prefers the British spellings "aluminium" and "caesium" over the U.S. spellings "aluminum" and "cesium", and the U.S. "sulfur" over the British "sulphur". However, elements that are practical to sell in bulk in many countries often still have locally used national names, and countries whose national language does not use the Latin alphabet are likely to use the IUPAC element names.
According to IUPAC, chemical elements are not proper nouns in English; consequently, the full name of an element is not routinely capitalized in English, even if derived from a proper noun, as in californium and einsteinium. Isotope names of chemical elements are also uncapitalized if written out, e.g., carbon-12 or uranium-235. Chemical element symbols (such as Cf for californium and Es for einsteinium), are always capitalized (see below).
In the second half of the twentieth century, physics laboratories became able to produce nuclei of chemical elements with half-lives too short for an appreciable amount of them to exist at any time. These are also named by IUPAC, which generally adopts the name chosen by the discoverer. This practice can lead to the controversial question of which research group actually discovered an element, a question that delayed the naming of elements with atomic number of 104 and higher for a considerable amount of time. (See element naming controversy).
Precursors of such controversies involved the nationalistic namings of elements in the late 19th century. For example, lutetium was named in reference to Paris, France. The Germans were reluctant to relinquish naming rights to the French, often calling it cassiopeium. Similarly, the British discoverer of niobium originally named it columbium, in reference to the New World. It was used extensively as such by American publications before the international standardization (in 1950).
The current system of chemical notation was invented by Berzelius. In this typographical system, chemical symbols are not mere abbreviations—though each consists of letters of the Latin alphabet. They are intended as universal symbols for people of all languages and alphabets.
The first of these symbols were intended to be fully universal. Since Latin was the common language of science at that time, they were abbreviations based on the Latin names of metals. Cu comes from cuprum, Fe comes from ferrum, Ag from argentum. The symbols were not followed by a period (full stop) as with abbreviations. Later chemical elements were also assigned unique chemical symbols, based on the name of the element, but not necessarily in English. For example, sodium has the chemical symbol 'Na' after the Latin natrium. The same applies to "Fe" (ferrum) for iron, "Hg" (hydrargyrum) for mercury, "Sn" (stannum) for tin, "Au" (aurum) for gold, "Ag" (argentum) for silver, "Pb" (plumbum) for lead, "Cu" (cuprum) for copper, and "Sb" (stibium) for antimony. "W" (wolfram) for tungsten ultimately derives from German, "K" (kalium) for potassium ultimately from Arabic.
Chemical symbols are understood internationally when element names might require translation. There have sometimes been differences in the past. For example, Germans in the past have used "J" (for the alternate name Jod) for iodine, but now use "I" and "Iod".
The first letter of a chemical symbol is always capitalized, as in the preceding examples, and the subsequent letters, if any, are always lower case (small letters). Thus, the symbols for californium and einsteinium are Cf and Es.
At least two additional, two-letter generic chemical symbols are also in informal usage, " Ln" for any lanthanide element and " An" for any actinide element. " Rg" was formerly used for any rare gas element, but the group of rare gases has now been renamed and the symbol " Rg" has now been assigned to the element roentgenium.
As a special case, the three naturally occurring isotopes of the element hydrogen are often specified as H for 1H (protium), D for 2H (deuterium), and T for 3H (tritium). This convention is easier to use in chemical equations, replacing the need to write out the mass number for each atom. For example, the formula for heavy water may be written D2O instead of 2H2O.
The universe's 94 naturally occurring chemical elements are thought to have been produced by at least four cosmos processes. Most of the hydrogen, helium and a very small quantity of lithium in the universe was produced primordially in the first few minutes of the Big Bang. Other three recurrently occurring later processes are thought to have produced the remaining elements. Stellar nucleosynthesis, an ongoing process inside stars, produces all elements from carbon through iron in atomic number, but little lithium, beryllium, or boron. Elements heavier in atomic number than iron, as heavy as uranium and plutonium, are produced by explosive nucleosynthesis in and other cataclysmic cosmic events. Cosmic ray spallation (fragmentation) of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen is important to the production of lithium, beryllium and boron.
During the early phases of the Big Bang, nucleosynthesis of hydrogen nuclei resulted in the production of hydrogen-1 (protium, 1H) and helium-4 (4He), as well as a smaller amount of deuterium (2H) and very minuscule amounts (on the order of 10−10) of lithium and beryllium. Even smaller amounts of boron may have been produced in the Big Bang, since it has been observed in some very old stars, while carbon has not. It is generally agreed that no heavier elements than boron were produced in the Big Bang. As a result, the primordial abundance of atoms (or ions) consisted of roughly 75% 1H, 25% 4He, and 0.01% deuterium, with only tiny traces of lithium, beryllium, and perhaps boron. Subsequent enrichment of galactic halos occurred due to stellar nucleosynthesis and supernova nucleosynthesis. However, the element abundance in intergalactic space can still closely resemble primordial conditions, unless it has been enriched by some means.
On Earth (and elsewhere), trace amounts of various elements continue to be produced from other elements as products of nuclear transmutation processes. These include some produced by or other nuclear reactions (see cosmogenic and nucleogenic nuclides), and others produced as of long-lived primordial nuclides. For example, trace (but detectable) amounts of carbon-14 (14C) are continually produced in the atmosphere by cosmic rays impacting nitrogen atoms, and argon-40 (40Ar) is continually produced by the decay of primordially occurring but unstable potassium-40 (40K). Also, three primordially occurring but radioactive , thorium, uranium, and plutonium, decay through a series of recurrently produced but unstable radioactive elements such as radium and radon, which are transiently present in any sample of these metals or their ores or compounds. Three other radioactive elements, technetium, promethium, and neptunium, occur only incidentally in natural materials, produced as individual atoms by nuclear fission of the Atomic nucleus of various heavy elements or in other rare nuclear processes.
The abundance of elements in the Solar System is in keeping with their origin from nucleosynthesis in the Big Bang and a number of progenitor supernova stars. Very abundant hydrogen and helium are products of the Big Bang, but the next three elements are rare since they had little time to form in the Big Bang and are not made in stars (they are, however, produced in small quantities by the breakup of heavier elements in interstellar dust, as a result of impact by ). Beginning with carbon, elements are produced in stars by buildup from alpha particles (helium nuclei), resulting in an alternatingly larger abundance of elements with even atomic numbers (these are also more stable). In general, such elements up to iron are made in large stars in the process of becoming . Iron-56 is particularly common, since it is the most stable element that can easily be made from alpha particles (being a product of decay of radioactive nickel-56, ultimately made from 14 helium nuclei). Elements heavier than iron are made in energy-absorbing processes in large stars, and their abundance in the universe (and on Earth) generally decreases with their atomic number.
The abundance of the chemical elements on Earth varies from air to crust to ocean, and in various types of life. The abundance of elements in Earth's crust differs from that in the Solar System (as seen in the Sun and heavy planets like Jupiter) mainly in selective loss of the very lightest elements (hydrogen and helium) and also volatile neon, carbon (as hydrocarbons), nitrogen and sulfur, as a result of solar heating in the early formation of the solar system. Oxygen, the most abundant Earth element by mass, is retained on Earth by combination with silicon. Aluminum at 8% by mass is more common in the Earth's crust than in the universe and solar system, but the composition of the far more bulky mantle, which has magnesium and iron in place of aluminum (which occurs there only at 2% of mass) more closely mirrors the elemental composition of the solar system, save for the noted loss of volatile elements to space, and loss of iron which has migrated to the Earth's core.
The composition of the human body, by contrast, more closely follows the composition of seawater—save that the human body has additional stores of carbon and nitrogen necessary to form the and , together with phosphorus in the nucleic acids and energy transfer molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that occurs in the cells of all living organisms. Certain kinds of require particular additional elements, for example the magnesium in chlorophyll in green plants, the calcium in , or the iron in the hemoglobin in vertebrate' red blood cells.
The term 'elements' ( stoicheia) was first used by the Greek philosopher Plato in about 360 BCE in his dialogue Timaeus, which includes a discussion of the composition of inorganic and organic bodies and is a speculative treatise on chemistry. Plato believed the elements introduced a century earlier by Empedocles were composed of small polyhedral forms: tetrahedron (fire), octahedron (air), icosahedron (water), and cube (earth).
Aristotle, c. 350 BCE, also used the term stoicheia and added a fifth element called aether, which formed the heavens. Aristotle defined an element as:
By 1914, seventy-two elements were known, all naturally occurring.
Most of the remaining naturally occurring chemical elements were identified and characterized by 1900, including:
Elements isolated or produced since 1900 include: