Question Video: Identifying the Relative Charge Values of Subatomic Particles Chemistry

What are the relative charges of a proton, a neutron, and an electron?


Video Transcript

What are the relative charges of a proton, a neutron, and an electron?

To begin, it’s important to recognize that protons, neutrons, and electrons are three different types of subatomic particles found inside the atoms of chemical elements. To solve this problem, we’ll need to determine the relative charges on these three different subatomic particles. We are not concerned with the exact amount of charge carried by a subatomic particle, which could be measured. Instead, we need to find out how the charges of the subatomic particles compare to one another.

When speaking of the charge on a subatomic particle at rest, we call it an electrostatic charge. A particle can have a positive electrostatic charge, a negative electrostatic charge, or have no charge at all. The word neutral is typically used to describe particles with no charge. Giving subatomic particles relative charges is very useful because it can help chemists keep track of the net charge of atoms and ions. Atoms of elements are electrically neutral. They have no net charge, even though some of the subatomic particles inside the atoms do have charges.

The dense core in the center of an atom is called the nucleus. The space outside the nucleus but still within the atom, often referred to as the electron cloud, is where the electrons are found. Electrons are the negatively charged subatomic particles in the atom. The nucleus of the atom contains a combination of protons and neutrons. The protons are positively charged, and the neutrons are neutral and do not have a charge. When comparing an electron to a proton, a proton is far more massive. However, the size or magnitude of the charge of an electron and a proton is equal. What differs about their charges is that the sign is opposite.

The relative charge assigned to an electron is negative one, and the relative charge assigned to a proton is positive one. These charges are equal in size but have opposite signs. A neutron has approximately the same mass as a proton, but it does not have a charge. Therefore, a neutron is given a relative charge of zero. Now, we’re ready to count up the total amount of charge from the subatomic particles inside our diagram of an atom. In this atom, we see three electrons, which each contribute a relative charge of minus one, so the total negative charge is negative three. There are three protons in the nucleus, which each contribute a relative charge of positive one for a total positive charge of positive three. The nucleus also contains four neutrons, but neutrons do not contribute any charge to the atom.

When we add up the charges of all of the subatomic particles in the atom, we get an answer of zero. Overall, an atom is electrically neutral. It has no charge. This is because the number of protons in the nucleus is equal to the number of electrons in the electron cloud. In summary, we’ve learned that the relative charges of a proton, a neutron, and an electron are positive one, zero, and negative one, respectively.

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