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Copper

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Copper is one of the best known elements, and studying its atomic structure aids in understanding why copper has the qualities it does: its fascinating characteristics are all predicted by its atomic structure.

All atoms are made of three subatomic particles called the proton, the neutron, and the electron. The proton is positively charged while electrons are negatively charged and neutrons have no charge. Protons and neutrons are large and heavy compared to the electron: both the proton and the neutron have a relative mass of 1, while the electron has a relative mass of 1/1836. The heavy protons are held together in a tiny area in the center of the atom called the nucleus. This means that most of the mass and all of the positive charge is found in a tiny area in the center of the atom. Because atoms are electrically neutral, the number of protons in the nucleus equals the number of electrons that exist in that atom. The number of protons an element has is that element’s atomic number. Copper has an atomic number of 29, so it has 29 protons and 29 electrons. Looking at the periodic table, there is a second number assigned to every element: the mass number. The mass number of an element is the number of protons the element has plus the number of neutrons the element has. Copper has a mass number of 63.55. Rounding up, this means that the number of neutrons copper has is 64 (mass number) minus 29 (protons), so it has 35 neutrons.

However, the mass number has a decimal place. This is due to the fact that the mass number is an average of all of the masses of the isotopes of an element, taking into account the abundances of each kind of isotope. Isotopes are atoms that have fewer or more neutrons than typical for that atom. Because...

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... shown in the shorthand 1s2 (s orbital level one, two electrons) 2s2 (s orbital level two, two electrons) 2p6 (p orbital level two, six electrons) 3s23p64s23d9. However, copper is unique in that to make the most stable and lowest energy configuration, one of the 4s electrons is brought into the 3d orbital. This makes its electron configuration 1s22s22p63s23p64s13d10. This configuration shows that the first, second, and third shell of copper is completely full, but the fourth shell is not filled. The s subshell is partially filled and the p subshell is completely empty. Because of the unpaired electron in the 4s subshell, copper is attracted to magnetic fields. This is called paramagnetism.

Copper’s unique characteristics are a result of its atomic structure. Knowing this atomic structure is a great aid in predicting how copper will behave in practical applications.
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