Q:

Why do isotopes exist?

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Quick Answer

Isotopes exist because the atomic nuclei of many elements are stable or somewhat stable with different numbers of neutrons in them. Because the identity of an element is determined solely by its number of protons, and its chemical properties solely by its number of protons and electrons, different numbers of neutrons change neither the element nor its chemical properties. Nonetheless, many isotopes are radioactive and unstable, breaking down in time.

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Full Answer

Radioactive isotopes are the most famous, both for their inherent dangers and their use in nuclear power and nuclear weapons. These isotopes are unstable, which means that over time, any particular sample of such an isotope gradually transforms into one or two other elements. This can occur because the atom splits or because a neutron becomes a proton or a proton becomes a neutron. All these processes involve the release of energy or energetic particles, and thus are radioactive. Most radioactive isotopes are so unstable that they are not found in nature, as they decay too quickly.

According to resources on the University of Oregon website, before 1906, it was generally thought that the mass of an element was integral to its identity. However, in 1906 and 1907, several researchers proved that there were elements of different atomic mass but identical chemical properties. It was Frederick Soddy, in 1913, who first coined the term "isotopes."

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Related Questions

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    How do isotopes of the same element differ from each other?

    A:

    Isotopes of the same element differ in the number of neutrons contained within the nucleus of the element's atoms, which causes them to differ in their atomic weights. Some isotopes are more radioactive and unstable than others.

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    Why are large nuclei unstable?

    A:

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    What is nuclear force?

    A:

    Nuclear force is the force that holds the particles of atomic nuclei, protons and neutrons, together. It is a fundamental force able to overcome the electric force that would otherwise force the nucleus apart within extremely small distances. Unlike the electrical force, the nuclear force reduces extremely quickly with distance, dropping to zero before it interacts with the atom's own electrons.

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