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Atoms, Molecules, and Ions

We saw in Chapter 1 that chemistry is concerned with the properties of materials. The materials in our world exhibit a striking and seemingly infinite variety of properties, including different colors, textures, solubilities, and chemical reactivities. When we see that diamonds are transparent and hard, table salt is brittle and dissolves in water, gold conducts electricity and can be hammered into thin sheets, and nitroglycerin is explosive, we are making observations in the macroscopic world, the world of our everyday senses. In chemistry we seek to understand and explain these properties in the submicroscopic world, the world of atoms and molecules.

The diversity of chemical behavior results from only about 100 different elements and, thus, only 100 different kinds of atoms. In a sense, the atoms are like the 26 letters of the alphabet that join together in different combinations to form the immense number of words in our language. But how do the atoms combine with each other? What rules govern the ways in which they can combine? How do the properties of a substance relate to the kinds of atoms it contains? Indeed, what is an atom like, and what makes the atoms of one element different from those of another?

The microscopic view of matter forms the basis for understanding why elements and compounds react in the ways they do and why they exhibit specific physical and chemical properties. In this chapter we begin to explore the fascinating world of atoms and molecules. We will examine the basic structure of the atom and briefly discuss the formation of molecules and ions. We will also introduce the systematic procedures used to name compounds. Our discussions in this chapter provide the foundation for exploring chemistry more deeply in later chapters.

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