The Complexity of the Copper Atom

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To understand the complexity of the copper atom, there must first be an understanding of the basic structure of a general atom. Atoms are considered to be the simplest of matter; impossible to dice into smaller pieces. There are, however, subatomic particles that are the building blocks of the uncountable atoms that make up the earth: protons, neutrons, and electrons. The positively charge particles (protons) and neutrally charged particles (neutrons) make up the nucleus, the electrons surround the nucleus in a cloud. The configuration and number of electrons are crucial in making up and distinguishing elements. This leads us to the analysis of the element copper.

There are different ways in which the electrons are situated around a copper atom, and all atoms, for that matter. The first aspect of an electron configuration is the energy level (n number, or principle quantum number) the electrons reach. Each period of the period table represents an energy level. The number of electrons (equal to the number of protons) an element possesses, for the most part, dictates the highest energy level of an atom. Copper has an atomic number of 29 and is in the fourth period, thus its electrons reach the fourth energy level. The energy level determines the size of the orbital. Within each energy level, there is a sublevel that represents the shape of the path the electron takes. The number of possible shapes within an energy level is equal to the energy level number. In the copper atom, the electrons reach the fourth energy level, therefore there are four “l” values: l=0(s orbital), l=1(p orbital), l=2(d orbital), l=3(f orbital). There is then another sublevel called the magnetic quantum number. This value dictates the orientation of the orbi...

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...diamagnetic species is slightly repelled by an external field. How the copper atom fills its orbitals is only one contributor to the distinctness of its character; isotopes are another.

There is even more uniqueness and variety to an atom of an element due to isotopes. An isotope is a derivation of an element: it maintains the same amount of protons (and thus, electrons) but has a different number of neutrons. Isotopes occur in different abundances. For the element of copper, there are 29 isotopes, only two of which are stable and not radioactive: 63Cu and 65Cu with abundances 69.15% and 30.85%, respectively.

Every element has a distinct make up due to the electron configuration, the number of protons (and thus electrons), the isotopes existing in nature, and many more factors. It is this innate uniqueness of elements that makes up almost every corner of the earth.
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