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Copper is a metal, meaning that its properties include being a good conductor of heat and electricity. Though elements can vary widely in their properties, each element has a very similar structure built using different combinations of the same three subatomic particles: positively charged protons, uncharged neutrons, and negatively charged electrons. A copper atom is simply a combination of these particles that includes exactly 29 protons. To understand the structure of a copper atom, one must first understand the properties of each of the three subatomic particles.

At the core of every atom is a nucleus composed of protons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are very similar in mass. The mass of these particles is measured in atomic mass units, which makes them very easy to express; protons and neutrons each have a relative mass of approximately 1 atomic mass unit. The difference between these two particles is in their charge. Protons have a relative charge of +1, while neutrons have a relative charge of 0. Electrons then surround the nucleus at different energy levels. Electrons have a relative charge of -1, but their relative mass is much smaller than that of protons or neutrons. They have a relative mass of approximately 1/1836 atomic mass units.

The number of protons in an atom defines its element; only atoms with 29 protons are copper atoms, and all atoms with 29 protons are copper atoms. However, there can be isotopes of an element, which are atoms with differing numbers of neutrons. Copper has two stable isotopes: 63Cu and 65Cu. The superscript before the element in an isotope is the mass number of the isotope, which indicates the combined number of protons and neutrons in the atom. A 63Cu atom has a...

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... However, due to the preference for half or completely full subshells, one electron from the 4s subshell is placed instead into the 3d subshell, giving the configuration 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 3d10 4s1. Here, the 3d subshell is completely full while the 4s subshell is half full, making this configuration more stable.

Finally, atoms can be either paramagnetic or diamagnetic. Atoms that are paramagnetic are attracted by a magnetic field, while atoms that are diamagnetic are repelled by a magnetic field. Atoms are paramagnetic if they have any orbitals that contain only one electron, which are referred to as unpaired electrons. Atoms are diamagnetic if no orbitals are occupied by only one electron, meaning all of their electrons are paired. Because copper’s 4s orbital contains only one electron, copper is paramagnetic, meaning it is attracted by magnetic fields.
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