2 minute read

Elements and Atoms

Atoms and Elements, How Many Elements Are There?

What is an element? Elements are all around us. The element iron is in everything from bridges to safety pins. Electric wire is made from the element copper. Cans are made from the element aluminum. The lead in pencils is not really lead. It is graphite. This is the element carbon. Even the air we breathe is made of elements. It is mostly nitrogen and oxygen.

Sorting the Elements These wires are made from the element copper. Copper is a metal. It is used for wires because it conducts electricity well.

Sorting the Elements Ironbridge is built mainly from the element iron. It was the first bridge ever to be built of cast iron. It was built across the River Severn in England, in 1779.

But many things around us are not elements. Plastic is not an element. Wood, glass, and cloth are not elements, either. So how do we tell elements from other substances? To find the answer, let's look at atoms. Everything is made of atoms.

Atoms and Elements

Atoms are the bits, or particles, that make up everything. They are very tiny. You need a special microscope to see an atom. An element is something that is made up of just one kind of atom.


Atoms are not solid balls. They are made from smaller parts. The parts are protons, neutrons, and electrons. The middle of the atom is called the nucleus. It is made from protons and neutrons. Around this is a cloud of very, very tiny electrons. The various elements have a different number of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Sorting the Elements The main parts of an atom.

How Many Elements Are There?

About ninety-two elements have been found on Earth. Some others have been made artificially. (See page 19.)


Every element has a symbol. Often, it is the first one or two letters of the element's name. Carbon, for instance, is C. Oxygen is O, and aluminum is Al. Sometimes, the symbol is not so easy to figure out. Iron, for example, is Fe. This symbol comes from the Latin name for iron, which is ferrum.

Element Symbol
aluminum Al
arsenic As
carbon C
chlorine Cl
cobalt Co
copper Cu
fluorine F
gold Au
helium He
hydrogen H
iodine I
iron Fe
magnesium Mg
mercury Hg
nickel Ni
nitrogen N
oxygen O
phosphorus P
platinum Pt
potassium K
silicon Si
silver Ag
sodium Na
sulfur S
tin Sn
titanium Ti
uranium U
zinc Zn

Additional topics

Science Encyclopedia for KidsSorting the Elements