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### Course: High school chemistry>Unit 1

Lesson 2: Isotopes and ions

# Worked example: using the mass number equation

The sum of the number of neutrons and protons in an atom is called its mass number. If we know the mass number of an atom, we can determine the number of neutrons in its nucleus. Created by Khan Academy.

## Want to join the conversation?

• How many known elements are there? Are there any left unknown?
• There are currently 118 known elements. 94 of these are naturally occurring, and the others are man-made. Generally, the larger atoms are, the more unstable they become. For example, the element 118, Oganesson, lasts for just 0.9 milliseconds, before it decays! Any elements beyond the periodic table would most likely be too unstable to be used for anything.
• What would the mass number be used for?
(1 vote)
• An atom's mass number (symbol: "A") is used to determine the total number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus of an atom. I.e.,

Protons + neutrons = mass number

With an atom's mass number, you can figure out the number of neutrons in the nucleus. The mass number is useful when studying isotopes (atoms of the same element but with different numbers of neutrons). The mass number allows scientists to identify and compare different isotopes of an element based on their nuclear composition. For example, we can compare Carbon isotopes: carbon-12 (C-12), carbon-13 (C-13), and carbon-14 (C-14). These isotopes have mass numbers of 12, 13, and 14, respectively.

Studying isotopes and their nuclear composition is valuable because we can gain insights into various aspects of an element's behavior. For instance, different isotopes of an element might have different stability, radioactivity, or chemical properties. This type of information is vital in many fields, not only in chemistry, but also in physics, geology, archaeology, and environmental science. That's because you can gather a lot of data from techniques like mass spectrometry (which measures the relative abundance of isotopes in a sample, to determine their ratios). We can learn a lot about the origin, age, and processes involved in various natural systems.

This all starts with isotopes. And it's the atom's mass number that allows us to tell what isotope we're dealing with. So, that's what it's for.
• Why did we not incorporate the decimal value in the calculation? Thanks, and these lessons are great!
• I’ve been trying to figure out how to write superscript and subscript(which if you don’t know, superscript is small text that goes slightly above the main character, and subscript is the same but goes slightly under)in the same line, but I just can’t do it. Can anyone help me? The best I can do is ₃⁶ C or something like that.

Ctrl + , = Subscript
Ctrl + . = Superscript

(Command for iOS/macOS)
(1 vote)
• is atomic mass and mass number the same ?
• No, Mass number is the number of protons and neutrons in an atom. However, atomic mass is the average mass of an element's isotopes.
• is the mass number always greater than the atomic number/protons?
(1 vote)
• Yes I believe so
(1 vote)
• In the process of an elements having different mass number you mentioned isotopes. What is Isotopes
(1 vote)
• Isotopes is atoms that have the same amount of protons, therefore are the same element, but have varying numbers of neutrons, giving them different weights and may cause them to be radioactive
(1 vote)
• Does atomic or proton number refer to the mass of protons? it seemed like we were substructing apples from oranges,help anyone?