Video: Difference between Elements and Molecules

What is the difference between a sulfur atom and a sulfur molecule? [A] Sulfur atoms are reactive, while sulfur molecules are not. [B] Sulfur atoms consist of multiple sulfur molecules bonded together. [C] A sulfur molecule consists of multiple sulfur atoms bonded together. [D] Sulfur atoms can be divided into smaller units, while sulfur molecules cannot.

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Video Transcript

What is the difference between a sulfur atom and a sulfur molecule? A) Sulfur atoms are reactive, while sulfur molecules are not. B) Sulfur atoms consist of multiple sulfur molecules bonded together. C) A sulfur molecule consists of multiple sulfur atoms bonded together. Or D) sulfur atoms can be divided into smaller units, while sulfur molecules cannot.

The first thing we need to identify is that sulfur is a chemical element. As with all elements, we can look up sulfur on the periodic table. We find sulfur in group 16, otherwise known as group six, just below oxygen. If we zoom in a little closer, we can see a little bit more information about the element sulfur. The number 16 in the box for sulfur is the atomic number of sulfur. That number tells us that if we have a sulfur atom, it will contain 16 protons in its nucleus.

Now, a molecule is when we have two or more atoms, it doesn’t matter what type, bonded together covalently. So, a sulfur molecule is simply a molecule that contains only sulfur atoms bonded together, like S₂ or S₈. sulfur, unlike oxygen, is a solid at room temperature and generally forms eight-membered rings. Now that we’ve recapped, let’s have a look at our statements.

The first statement suggests that sulfur atoms are reactive while sulfur molecules are not. Well, the truth is that the normal form for sulfur is the S₈ molecule. You’ll see it as a vibrant yellow powder. If you set light to sulfur, it will react with the oxygen in the air producing a beautiful blue flame and sulfur dioxide gas. sulfur atoms, if we had them free, would do the same. So, the first statement is false and an incorrect answer.

The second statement is that sulfur atoms consist of multiple sulfur molecules bonded together. The truth is, it’s the other way around. sulfur molecules contain sulfur atoms. We see things the correct way round in the third statement. A sulfur molecule consists of multiple sulfur atoms bonded together. This statement correctly describes the difference between a sulfur atom and a sulfur molecule. But just in case, let’s check the last statement.

The first part of this statement is that sulfur atoms can be divided into smaller units. This is, of course, true. Electrons can be taken off or added to sulfur atoms, forming sulfur ions. And if we try really hard, we can add or remove protons and neutrons from the nucleus. Although, in general, we do think about the atom as being fairly fundamental because splitting the atom is quite difficult and releases tremendous amounts of energy. Adding or taking away electrons is much less worrisome.

The second part of the statement is that sulfur molecules cannot be divided into smaller units. This is false because we know that sulfur molecules are made of sulfur atoms. So, sulfur molecules can be divided into smaller units that are atoms or even smaller units that are protons, neutrons, and electrons.

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