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Why do different elements have different properties?


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I know that it's because of their different atomic structure, but why? I think I have an idea of why specific properties are present in some elements, like radioactivity(because of their instability) or reactivity with other elements(because of their electron configuration) or atomic weight (because of the number of protons and neutrons)...etc. But how do any of those(or something else I'm most likely unaware of) explain color, texture, melting points and boiling points, density, and many other properties I can't think of at the moment(what are the other properties?). Like, why is gold's color different than silver?

 

 

 

I don't know much about science, besides a few things I read here and there. What field of science would answer these questions? I figured it would be chemistry, but would physics give a more basic answer, as it underlines chemistry?

 

Also, how many years would it take me to have a firm understanding of physics? I'm thinking of starting out soon. How would you suggest I begin? I didn't think I was smart enough so I haven't bothered up until now. How hard is it going to be?

 

Thanks anyway.

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The configuration of the electrons and their ability to form bonds depends on the number of protons. An atom that has one electron free (or wants to accept one) to form bonds will behave differently than one that has two.

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Also, different elements will not be able to form the same bonds. An atom that easily gains an electron will not form the same bonds as an atom that easily loses an electron.

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I actually had my moment where it 'clicked' for me while playing with Buckeyballs (those little shiny magnetic balls, not fullerenes). You could arrange them in all sort of configurations: some were just blobs of balls, some were well-ordered blocks, some were single-magnet strands, some were sheets, etc. And different configurations behaved differently. One might fall apart easily, another might hold it's shape very well. One might be floppy and weak in one direction but rigid and strong against force applied in another direction. Some were well suited to being fit together into larger structures like component parts.So it's not that a gold atom is yellow, but that gold atoms form structures which yellow light reflects off of while others are absorbed. Something soft has a structure that is very pliable while something hard and brittle has a more rigid structure that may only break along certain lines. The properties of the atom determine the structures that it can form, and the structures are what determine the properties of the substance. That's why Carbon can form substances as different as coal and diamond.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I know that it's because of their different atomic structure, but why? I think I have an idea of why specific properties are present in some elements, like radioactivity(because of their instability) or reactivity with other elements(because of their electron configuration) or atomic weight (because of the number of protons and neutrons)...etc. But how do any of those(or something else I'm most likely unaware of) explain color, texture, melting points and boiling points, density, and many other properties I can't think of at the moment(what are the other properties?). Like, why is gold's color different than silver?

 

I don't know much about science, besides a few things I read here and there. What field of science would answer these questions? I figured it would be chemistry, but would physics give a more basic answer, as it underlines chemistry?

 

Colour, texture, melting points and boiling points, density, and similar many other properties of substances are given by the electronic configuration of the atoms. E.g. colour depends of the occupied and available orbitals to electrons. Using quantum chemistry methods one can obtain the orbitals and their energies and then predict the colour that a substance will have before synthetizing it in the lab. The same about other properties, e.g. boiling points depend on the intermolecular forces and bondings, which in its turn depend of the electronic structure and molecular geometry. Boiling points can be also computed or estimated. The explaining on why gold's colour is different than silver is given in relativistic quantum chemistry courses.

 

Also, how many years would it take me to have a firm understanding of physics? I'm thinking of starting out soon. How would you suggest I begin? I didn't think I was smart enough so I haven't bothered up until now. How hard is it going to be?

 

Thanks anyway.

 

A basic general understanding? 4-5 years. Specialised understanding in some field? 4-5 more.

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