Atomic Number and Mass Number

The modern periodic table is arranged in such a way that all the elements have an increasing atomic number, and subsequently, increasing mass number. But do you know what mass number, or even what atomic number is?

Well, as you know, an atom consists of electrons, protons and neutrons. The number of electrons in the outer most shell gives us the valency of the atom. Similarly, the number of protons and neutrons are associated with the atomic number and mass number of the atom.

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Let’s look at the difference between the two terms.

What is Atomic Number?

  • The total number of protons in the nucleus of an atom gives us the atomic number of that atom.
  • It is represented with the letter ‘Z.’
  • All the atoms of a particular element have the same number of protons, and hence the same atomic number.
  • Atoms of different elements have different atomic numbers.
  • For example, all atoms of Carbon have the atomic number of 6, whereas all atoms of Oxygen have 8 protons in their nucleus.

What is Mass Number?

  • The number of protons and neutrons combined to give us the mass number of an atom.
  • It is represented using the letter ‘A.’
  • As both protons and neutrons are present in the nucleus of an atom, they are together called nucleons.
  • For example, an atom of Carbon has 6 protons and 6 neutrons. Thus, it’s mass number is 12.
  • While the number of protons remains the same in all atoms of an element, the number of neutrons can vary. Thus, atoms of the same element can have different mass numbers, and these are called isotopes.
  • The weight of an electron is almost negligible. Thus, the atomic mass of an atom is almost the same as its mass number.

Difference between Valency, A and Z:

When we want to find out the valency, we look at electrons only in the outermost shell of the atom. But when we want to know the atomic number or the mass number, we look at the total number of protons and neutrons.

Notation of Atom

To write the notation of an atom, we need to know the symbol of the element, the atomic number and the mass number. The mass number of the atom goes above the symbol and the atomic number is written as a subscript.


Notation of Atom

Notation of Atom

So, the notation of Carbon is:


Carbon Atom

Carbon Atom


Calculating Number of Neutrons:

If we know the number of protons and the mass number of an element, we can also calculate the number of neutrons simply by subtracting its atomic number from its mass number.

Atomic Number
To know more about the number of protons, neutrons and isotopes, download Byju’s- The Learning App.

Practise This Question

Who among the following discovered the subatomic particles called protons?

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