The Atomic Number Of An Atom Is Equal To The Number Of

Learning Objective

Atomic number, the number of a chemical element in the periodic system, whereby the elements are arranged in order of increasing number of protons in the nucleus. Accordingly, the number of protons, which is always equal to the number of electrons in the neutral atom, is also the atomic number. The atomic number is equal to the number of in an atom: protons: The number below the chemical symbol on the periodic table that has a few decimal places is known as the. Average atomic mass: If an element has a mass # of 23 and an atomic # of 11, how many protons will it have? 11 protons and 12 neutrons: The is equal.

  • Determine the relationship between the mass number of an atom, its atomic number, its atomic mass, and its number of subatomic particles

Key Points

  • Neutral atoms of each element contain an equal number of protons and electrons.
  • The number of protons determines an element’s atomic number and is used to distinguish one element from another.
  • The number of neutrons is variable, resulting in isotopes, which are different forms of the same atom that vary only in the number of neutrons they possess.
  • Together, the number of protons and the number of neutrons determine an element’s mass number.
  • Since an element’s isotopes have slightly different mass numbers, the atomic mass is calculated by obtaining the mean of the mass numbers for its isotopes.


  • atomic massThe average mass of an atom, taking into account all its naturally occurring isotopes.
  • mass numberThe sum of the number of protons and the number of neutrons in an atom.
  • atomic numberThe number of protons in an atom.

Atomic Number

Neutral atoms of an element contain an equal number of protons and electrons. The number of protons determines an element’s atomic number (Z) and distinguishes one element from another. For example, carbon’s atomic number (Z) is 6 because it has 6 protons. The number of neutrons can vary to produce isotopes, which are atoms of the same element that have different numbers of neutrons. The number of electrons can also be different in atoms of the same element, thus producing ions (charged atoms). For instance, iron, Fe, can exist in its neutral state, or in the +2 and +3 ionic states.

Mass Number

An element’s mass number (A) is the sum of the number of protons and the number of neutrons. The small contribution of mass from electrons is disregarded in calculating the mass number. This approximation of mass can be used to easily calculate how many neutrons an element has by simply subtracting the number of protons from the mass number. Protons and neutrons both weigh about one atomic mass unit or amu. Isotopes of the same element will have the same atomic number but different mass numbers.

Scientists determine the atomic mass by calculating the mean of the mass numbers for its naturally-occurring isotopes. Often, the resulting number contains a decimal. For example, the atomic mass of chlorine (Cl) is 35.45 amu because chlorine is composed of several isotopes, some (the majority) with an atomic mass of 35 amu (17 protons and 18 neutrons) and some with an atomic mass of 37 amu (17 protons and 20 neutrons).

Given an atomic number (Z) and mass number (A), you can find the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons in a neutral atom. For example, a lithium atom (Z=3, A=7 amu) contains three protons (found from Z), three electrons (as the number of protons is equal to the number of electrons in an atom), and four neutrons (7 – 3 = 4).

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Learning Outcomes

  • Define atomic and mass numbers.
  • Determine the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons in an atom.
  • Identify the charge and relative mass of subatomic particles.
  • Label the location of subatomic particles in the atom.
  • Determine the mass of an atom based on its subatomic particles.
  • Write A/Z and symbol-mass format for an atom.

Atoms are the fundamental building blocks of all matter and are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Because atoms are electrically neutral, the number of positively charged protons must be equal to the number of negatively charged electrons. Since neutrons do not affect the charge, the number of neutrons is not dependent on the number of protons and will vary even among atoms of the same element.

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Atomic Number

The atomic number (represented by the letter Z)of an element is the number of protons in the nucleus of each atom of that element. An atom can be classified as a particular element based solely on its atomic number. For example, any atom with an atomic number of 8 (its nucleus contains 8 protons) is an oxygen atom, and any atom with a different number of protons would be a different element. The periodic table (see figure below) displays all of the known elements and is arranged in order of increasing atomic number. In this table, an element's atomic number is indicated above the elemental symbol. Hydrogen, at the upper left of the table, has an atomic number of 1. Every hydrogen atom has one proton in its nucleus. Next on the table is helium, whose atoms have two protons in the nucleus. Lithium atoms have three protons, beryllium atoms have four, and so on.

Since atoms are neutral, the number of electrons in an atom is equal to the number of protons. Hydrogen atoms all have one electron occupying the space outside of the nucleus. Helium, with two protons, will have two electrons. In the chemical classroom, the proton count will always be equivalent to an atom's atomic number. This value will not change unless the nucleus decays or is bombarded (nuclear physics).

Mass Number

Experimental data showed that the vast majority of the mass of an atom is concentrated in its nucleus, which is composed of protons and neutrons. The mass number (represented by the letter A)is defined as the total number of protons and neutrons in an atom. Consider the table below, which shows data from the first six elements of the periodic table.

Table (PageIndex{1}): Atoms of the First Six Elements
NameSymbolAtomic Number (Z)ProtonsNeutronsElectronsMass Number (A) (rounded to two decimals)

Consider the element helium. Its atomic number is 2, so it has two protons in its nucleus. Its nucleus also contains two neutrons. Since (2 + 2 = 4), we know that the mass number of the helium atom is 4. Finally, the helium atom also contains two electrons, since the number of electrons must equal the number of protons. This example may lead you to believe that atoms have the same number of protons and neutrons, but a further examination of the table above will show that this is not the case. Lithium, for example, has three protons and four neutrons, giving it a mass number of 7.

Knowing the mass number and the atomic number of an atom allows you to determine the number of neutrons present in that atom by subtraction.

[text{Number of neutrons} = text{ rounded mass number} - text{atomic number}]

Atoms of the element chromium (left( ce{Cr} right)) have an atomic number of 24 and a mass number of 52. How many neutrons are in the nucleus of a chromium atom? To determine this, you would subtract as shown:

[52 - 24 = 28 : text{neutrons in a chromium atom}]

The composition of any atom can be illustrated with a shorthand notation called A/Z format. Both the atomic number and mass are written to the left of the chemical symbol. The 'A' value is written as a superscript while the 'Z' value is written as a subscript. For an example of this notation, look to the chromium atom shown below:


Another way to refer to a specific atom is to write the mass number of the atom after the name, separated by a hyphen. Symbol-mass format for the above atom would be written as Cr-52. In this notation, the atomic number is not included. You will need to refer to a periodic table for proton values.

Example (PageIndex{1})

Calculate each of the three subatomic particles and give specific group or period names for each atom.

  1. mercury
  2. platinum
  3. bromine


  1. Hg (transition metal)- has 80 electrons, 80 protons, and 121 neutrons
  2. Pt (transition metal)- has 78 electrons, 78 protons, and 117 neutrons
  3. Br (halogen)- has 35 electrons, 35 protons, and 45 neutrons

Example (PageIndex{2})

Write both A/Z and symbol-mass formats for the atoms in Example (PageIndex{1}).


  1. (ce{^{201}_{80}Hg}) and Hg-201
  2. (ce{^{195}_{78}Pt}) and Pt-195
  3. (ce{^{80}_{35}Br}) and Br-80

Example (PageIndex{3})

Identify the elements based on the statements below.

  1. Which element has 25 protons?
  2. Which element has 0 neutrons?
  3. Which element has 83 electrons?


a. manganese

An Element's Atomic Number Is Equal To

b. hydrogen

c. bismuth

The Atomic Number Of An Atom Is

Need More Practice?

  • Turn to section 3.E of this OER and answer questions #1-#2, #4, and #8.

Contributors and Attributions

Atomic Numbers Equal The Amount Of

  • CK-12 Foundation by Sharon Bewick, Richard Parsons, Therese Forsythe, Shonna Robinson, and Jean Dupon.

  • Allison Soult, Ph.D. (Department of Chemistry, University of Kentucky)