Part V Elements And Atomic Weights

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Part V
Elements
and Atomic Weights
Element ~ One dictionary defines it as a substance with “a chemical
composition that is in a class unto itself here on earth and even in this
universe.” Another defines it as a substance containing “atoms of only
one kind that singly or in combination constitute all matter.”
To put it simply, elements are the basic building blocks of the chemical and physical world,
as we know it.
While many of us remember this basic concept from high school chemistry class, details such as the
name, abbreviation, and atomic weight2 of each element are probably a bit fuzzy. This is understandable as
there are more than 100 elements recognized by the international scientific community. Fortunately, a list of
elements and their international atomic weights can be found in most chemistry books, in some dictionaries,
and at a number of on-line web sites.3 (A good reference source for anyone working in the aquatic sciences
is STANDARD METHODS for the Examination of Water and Wastewater.) For your convenience however,
we’ve provided a table of international relative atomic weights in this section along with a brief explanation of
how relative atomic weights are determined (page 29) and how they are used to calculate the molecular weight
of the various chemical compounds found on earth (page 30).
Why do we need to know about elements and their atomic weights?
For starters, many elements, including calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus and silicon, are
considered to be important nutrients found in aquatic environments. Familiarity with their names and abbreviations is useful from a communications perspective as scientists commonly use abbreviated terminology in
their journal articles, graphs, charts, and lectures. For example, when a scientist discusses the effects of “N”
or “P” in a lake system, an educated reader/listener will know that the scientist is referring to the elements
nitrogen or phosphorus, respectively.
Secondly, knowledge of an element’s atomic weight is required for accuracy when converting from one
unit of measure to another. A marine scientist, for instance, might record nutrient concentrations in units of
micromoles per liter (µM/L) while a freshwater scientist may use milligrams per liter (mg/L) or micrograms
per liter (µg/L). If either scientist wants to combine databases for comparison, conversions would need to be
made to standardize the units of measure. To make the conversions, the atomic weight of each element, such as
nitrogen or phosphorus, would have to be known. An explanation of how to do these conversions is provided
in Section VII on page 35. And remember, if you should encounter any difficulties converting from one unit of
measure to another, don’t feel bad as this can be a difficult task even for professionals!
2 An element’s atomic weight is approximately equal to the number of protons and neutrons found in an atom.
3 Atomic Weights of the Elements. 1999. World Wide Web version prepared by G.P. Moss, originally from a file
provided by D.R. Lide. <http://www.chem.qmw.ac.uk/iupac/AtWt/>
27
International Relative* Atomic Weights
Element
Actinium
Aluminum
Americium
Antimony
Argon
Arsenic
Astatine
Barium
Berkelium
Beryllium
Bismuth
Bohrium
Boron
Bromine
Cadmium
Calcium
Californium
Carbon
Cerium
Cesium
Chlorine
Chromium
Cobalt
Copper
Curium
Dubnium
Dyprosium
Einsteinium
Erbium
Europium
Fermium
Fluorine
Francium
Gadolinium
Gallium
Germanium
Gold
Hafnium
Hassium
Helium
Holmium
Hydrogen
Indium
Iodine
Iridium
Iron
Krypton
Lanthanum
28
Symbol
Ac
Al
Am
Sb
Ar
As
At
Ba
Bk
Be
Bi
Bh
B
Br
Cd
Ca
Cf
C
Cc
CS
Cl
Cr
Co
Cu
Cm
Db
Dy
Es
Er
Eu
Fm
F
Fr
Gd
Ga
Ge
An
Hf
Hs
He
Ho
H
In
I
Ir
Fc
Kr
La
Atomic Weight
227**
26.981538
243
121.760
39.948
74.92160
210
137.327
247
9.012182
208.98038
264
10.811
79.904
112.411
40.078
251
12.0107
140.116
132.9054
35.453
51.9961
58.933200
63.546
247
262
162.50
252
167.259
151.964
257
18.9984032
223
157.25
69.723
72.64
196.96655
178.49
277
4.002602
164.93032
1.00794
114.818
126.90447
192.217
55.845
83.80
138.9055
Element
Lawrencium
Lead
Lithium
Lutetium
Magnesium
Manganese
Meitnerium
Mendelevium
Mercury
Molybdenum
Neodymium
Neon
Neptunium
Nickel
Niobium
Nitrogen
Nobelium
Osmium
Oxygen
Palladium
Phosphorus
Platinum
Plutonium
Polonium
Potassium
Praseodymium
Promethium
Protactinium
Radium
Radon
Rhenium
Rhodium
Rubidium
Ruthenium
Rutherfordium
Samarium
Scandium
Selenium
Seaborgium
Silicon
Silver
Sodium
Strontium
Sulfur
Tantalum
Technetium
Tellurium
Terbium
Symbol
Lr
Pb
Li
Lu
M
Mn
Mt
Md
Hg
Mo
Nd
Ne
Np
Ni
Nb
N
No
Os
Os
Pd
P
Pt
Pu
Po
K
Pr
Pm
Pa
Ra
Rn
Re
Rh
Rb
Ru
Rf
Sm
Sc
Se
Sg
Si
Ag
Na
Sr
S
Ta
Tc
Te
Tb
Atomic Weight
262
207.2
6.941
174.967
24.3050
54.938049
268
258
200.59
95.94
144.24
20.1797
237
58.6934
92.90638
14.0067
259
190.23
15.9994
106.42
30.973761
195.078
244
209
39.0983
140.90765
145
231.03588
226
222
186.207
102.90550
85.4678
101.07
267
150.36
44.955910
78.96
266
28.0855
107.8682
22.989770
87.62
32.065
180.9479
98
127.60
158.92534
International Relative* Atomic Weights
Element
Thallium
Thorium
Thulium
Tin
Titanium
Tungsten
Ununilium
Ununquadium
Uranium
Vanadium
Xenon
Ytterbium
Symbol
TI
Th
Tm
Sn
Ti
W
Uun
Uuq
U
V
Xe
Yh
Atomic Weight
204.3833
232.0381
168.93421
118.710
47.867
183.84
281
289
238.02891
50.9415
131.293
173.04
Element
Symbol
Yttrium
Zinc
Zirconium
*
Y
Zn
Zr
Atomic Weight
88.90585
65.39
91.224
Based on the assigned relative atomic mass of 12 C=12.
**
Relative weights shown here as whole numbers indicate the
mass number of the longest-lived isotope of that element.
Note: The atomic weights you may see here and in other
publications may vary slightly. This is due to each publisher
rounding off the numbers differently. It’s also important to note
that atomic weight values are periodically re-determined; this
may also contribute to minor differences in weights shown.
Relative Atomic Weights
Before the age of nuclear technology, scientists
were limited to studying chemical reactions that
involved large numbers of atoms at once, as there
were no methods for isolating a single atom to
determine its weight. However, scientists were able
to devise a system for assigning weights to the
elements by comparing how heavy a given atom
was in relation to other atoms. This is known as
the system of relative atomic weights. The
following is a brief explanation of how it works.
Take hydrogen, for example. The relative atomic
weight of hydrogen is expressed as 1.008. This
means that the mass of a hydrogen atom is slightly
greater than one-twelfth the mass of a carbon-12
atom.** See illustration below.
We can use the element copper (Cu) as a second
example. Copper has a relative atomic weight of
63.546. This means that the mass of a copper atom is
nearly 64 times that of one carbon-12 atomic unit
(i.e., 1/12th).
*
To further visualize this, imagine 12 individual spheres
clustered together as seen in the figure below.
The current practice is to express the weight of
**
The expressed weight of 1.008 is the average weight of
a given element as it relates to the weight of some
naturally occurring hydrogen; the reason it is not exactly 1.000
known standard. In recent years, the accepted
is that a small fraction of naturally occurring hydrogen atoms
standard is a carbon isotope known as carbon-12
have a weight of 2, rather than 1.
with an assigned weight of 12 atomic mass units.*
Using only one of these twelve
units (i.e., 1/12th), we can
A hydrogen atom is assigned an atomic weight of 1
assign atomic weights for all
(rounded from 1.008) because the mass of a hydrogen
atom is roughly equal to 1/12th the mass of a
the other elements.
12
carbon-12 atom (depicted on the right).
In other words, when
expressing the atomic weight
of an element, we simply
This cluster of 12 protons and neutrons
represents the total mass of a
need to express the mass of
carbon-12 atom. The sphere that is circled
that element relative to the
represents one atomic unit (i.e., 1/12th)
mass of one-twelfth of a
of that atom. This unit is the basis for
carbon-12 atom. These units
determining the relative atomic weight
of weight are referred to as
for all other elements.
“atomic mass units.”
H
C
29
Part VI
Interpreting Water Chemistry Formulas
and Calculating Molecular Weights
Now that we’ve got a better understanding of relative atomic weights (see page 29),
we can begin to consider chemical compounds and learn how to interpret them.
It’s important to be able to interpret such formulas because elements are rarely found alone in nature.
More often than not, they combine with other elements to form chemical substances or compounds. For
example, let us consider one of the most commonly known compounds — water. The abbreviation alone tells us
that a water molecule (H20) is comprised of two atoms of hydrogen (H2) and one atom of oxygen (O). When
combined with one more atom of oxygen, we end up with a compound known as hydrogen peroxide (H2O2 ).
We can find the molecular weight of a chemical compound by totaling up the weight,
in atomic mass units, of all the atoms in that given formula.
We use molecular weights to describe how many grams are in one mole* of a substance. When dealing
with concentrations of chemicals, it’s often helpful to know the molecular weight of a specific compound so
that we can evaluate how it is interacting with other substances. While you may not have the opportunity to
do this in a laboratory, it is still helpful to be able to interpret the language used by the chemists. Learning to
calculate the molecular weight of a substance is the first step toward a better understanding of water chemistry.
To help you in this endeavor, we’ve provided several practice exercises below.
*
A mole is the standard unit of measure used by chemists for communicating quantities of a chemical compound; a mole is
also referred to as a gram molecule. The term “mole” is abbreviated as “mol” or “M.”
Step 1
Before we can calculate the molecular weight of a chemical compound,
we need to know how many atoms are present for each element.
For the purposes of this exercise, we’ve chosen three chemical compounds that are
commonly associated with water chemistry.
For NaCl (sodium chloride) there will be:
• one atom of sodium (Na)
• one atom of chlorine (Cl)
For CaC03 (calcium carbonate) there will be:
• one atom of calcium (Ca),
• one atom of carbon (C)
• three atoms of oxygen (O)
30
For Fe(OH)3 (hydrated ferric hydroxide)
there will be:
• one atom of iron (Fe),
• three atoms of oxygen (O)
• three atoms of hydrogen (H)
Note: If a subscript follows an atom abbreviation with no
parenthesis, that number tells us how many atoms are present for
that element. If parentheses are involved, you must multiply each
individual subscript on the inside of the parentheses by the
subscript number on the outside.
Step 2
To calculate the molecular weight of a substance or compound,
you must first know the atomic weight of each element within the compound.
International Relative Atomic weights can be found in the table on pages 28-29.
For your convenience, we’ve provided atomic weights for the compounds used in this exercise.
NaCl
{
CaCO3 {
Na
Cl
=
=
22.989770
35.453
Ca
C
O
=
=
=
40.078
12.0107
15.9994
Fe(OH)3 {
Fe
O
H
=
=
=
55.845
15.9994
1.00794
Step 3
NaCl
Once you have a relative atomic weight for each element in a compound, multiply the
weight of each atom by the number of atoms that are present in the formula,
then add the answers.
One atom of sodium (Na)
One atom of chlorine (Cl)
=
=
1
1
x 22.989770 =
x 35.453
=
22.989770
35.453
Add these values for the molecular weight:
22.989770 + 35.453 =
58.44277 atomic mass units (amu)
CaCO3
The answer 58.44277 represents the molecular weight for one mole
of NaCl in atomic mass units (amu).
One atom of calcium (Ca)
One atom of carbon (C)
Three atoms of oxygen (O)
=
=
=
1 x
1 x
3 x
40.078
=
12.0107 =
15.9994 =
40.078
12.0107
47.982
Add these values for the molecular weight:
40.078
+ 12.0107 + 47.982
=
100.0707 atomic mass units (amu)
Fe(OH)3
The answer 100.0707 represents the molecular weight for one mole of CaCO3.
One atom of iron (Fe)
=
Three atoms of oxygen (O) =
Three atoms of hydrogen (H) =
1 x
3 x
3 x
55.845 =
15.9994 =
1.00794 =
55.845
47.982
3.02382
Add these values for the molecular weight:
55.845
+ 47.982
+ 3.02382
= 106.85082 atomic mass units (amu)
The answer 106.85082 represents the molecular weight for one mole of Fe(OH)3.
31
Part VII
Different Ways
of Expressing a Chemical Compound
M
Joe Richard
any elements that are important to
most communities in the United States, the
lakes are found in more than one
maximum amount of nitrates allowed in drinking
chemical form. Nitrogen (N) is a good water is considered to be 45 mg/L NO3. (While
example. It can combine with two oxygen atoms occurrences have been rare, it’s been found that
to form nitrites (expressed by the compound
in small babies, higher nitrate levels can interfere
-1
formula NO2 ) or it can combine with three
with the ability of the blood to carry oxygen,
oxygen atoms to form nitrates
resulting in a phenomenon
(NO3-1). Ammonium ions (NH4+1)
known as the blue baby
are formed when one nitrogen
syndrome.)
atom is combined with four
If we made a separate
hydrogen atoms. Nitrogen can
measurement of just the
also be found in various organic
nitrogen contained in the
molecules produced by living
nitrate formula mentioned
5
organisms in lakes.
above, we would express the
The sum of these various
concentration as 10.2 mg/L
nitrogen compounds is known as
NO3-N. This is known as a
total nitrogen. We often rely on
nitrate-nitrogen formula. An
total measurements because
interpretation of this particular
some elements, nitrogen included,
formula tells us that there are
tend to continually transfer from
10.2 mg of nitrogen contained
one form to another through the
within the nitrates in a liter of
metabolism of aquatic organisms, Because nitrogen compounds are
water. The “–N” symbol
making it difficult to track
found in the latter portion of the
constantly changing within an aquatic
individual chemical compounds. environment, some water monitoring
formula tells us that the number
programs, including Florida LAKEWATCH,
This is true for phosphorus as
value (10.2 mg/L) is describing
prefer to measure total nitrogen
well. Florida LAKEWATCH
the weight of nitrogen only
concentrations. Such information helps
measures total phosphorus
contained in that compound.
scientists estimate the potential for
biological productivity in a waterbody.
concentrations for the same
A similar approach would
reason. These compounds are
be used if we were to make a
commonly measured in concentrations of milligrams
per liter (mg/L) or micrograms per liter (µg/L).
5 Organic molecules are formed by the actions of
There are times however, when we may
living things and/or have a carbon backbone.
Methane (CH4) is an example, although it’s
want to isolate and measure a specific chemical
important
to note that not all methane is formed by
compound. A case in point is the standard that
living
organisms.
has been set for nitrates in drinking water: In
32
separate measurement of the nitrogen contained
in an ammonium compound. The formula would
be expressed as mg/L NH4 -N and is known as an
ammonium–nitrogen formula. And if we wanted
to measure the weight of nitrogen only as it combines
with organic molecules, we would use an organicnitrogen formula expressed as mg/L organic-N.
As you can see from the examples above,
a nitrate formula is expressed differently than a
nitrate-nitrogen formula, even though they both
represent measurements of nitrates found in one
liter of water.
To convert units of nitrates to units of
nitrate-nitrogen we need to multiply by a conversion
factor consisting of the atomic weight of nitrogen
divided by the combined atomic weights of one
nitrogen and three oxygen atoms. An example of
this conversion process is provided below.
Note: The same approach can be used for other
chemical compounds found in water. For instance,
there may be times when one would want to isolate
the weight of phosphorus contained in phosphates
or the weight of sulfur contained in sulfates, etc.
Converting from nitrates to nitrate – nitrogen
45 mg/L NO3
= 45 x (14* ÷ (14 + 48**)) =
?
(original nitrate formula)
=
45
x
➡
➡
➡
45 mg/L NO3
0.226
=
10.2 mg/L NO3– N
(nitrate-nitrogen formula)
*
14 is the relative atomic weight for nitrogen (rounded from 14.00674).
**
The number 48 was attained by multiplying the relative atomic weight of a single oxygen
atom (16) by 3, as there are three oxygen atoms in a nitrate molecule.
The nitrate formula (top left) tells us that there is a total concentration
of 45 mg of nitrates in a liter of water. After doing the conversion, the
nitrate – nitrogen formula (bottom right) tells us that out of the 45 mg/L
of nitrates, there are 10.2 mg of actual nitrogen within that same liter of
water. It should be noted that the nitrate – nitrogen formula is currently
being used by most water chemistry labs as the preferred way to
express this relationship.
33
Part VIII
Joe Richard
Amy Richard
Using Atomic Weights
to Compare Different Measures of
Concentration
Kelly Schulz (left) processes total phosphorus samples for the Florida LAKEWATCH program at a UF/IFAS water
chemistry laboratory. The freshwater total phosphorus concentrations she records into the LAKEWATCH database
are expressed as micrograms per liter (µg/L). Erin Bledsoe (right) prepares a Van Dorn sampler before lowering it
into marine offshore waters for a sample. Phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations found in saltwater samples are
often expressed as micromoles per liter (µM/L). If the two were to be compared, conversions would be needed.
A
lthough most aquatic scientists have adopted the International System (SI) for standardizing
scientific units of measure, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will use the same units of
measure for the same things. For example, scientists who study saltwater systems (i.e.,
oceanographers, etc.) and those that study freshwater systems (i.e., limnologists) often express
their work differently. Oceanographers tend to use the micromole per liter (µM/L) as a unit of
measure in their analyses while limnologists tend to use the milligram per liter (mg/L) or microgram per liter (µg/L) units of measure for their studies.
This isn’t a problem unless one scientist decides to compare his or her data with those of
another, in which case conversions must be made so that one can compare “apples with
apples.” See the examples on the next page for an explanation on how atomic weights are
used to convert from one unit of measure to another.
34
Converting micromoles per liter (µM/L) to micrograms per liter (µg/L)
To convert a concentration of an element given as micromoles per liter (µM/L) to units of micrograms
per liter (µg/L), you would simply multiply the concentration in micromoles times the relative atomic weight
of the element. For example, to convert a phosphorus concentration of 10 µM P/L to units of µg P/L, you
would multiply 10 times the relative atomic weight for phosphorus (31)* to get 310 µg/L of phosphorus.
Notice how the abbreviation for phosphorus (P) is expressed in the equation below.
10 µM P/L = 10 (micromoles) X 31 (relative atomic weight for phosphorus) =
*
310 µg P/L
Using the table on page 28 we can see that the relative atomic weight for phosphorus is 31 (rounded from 30.973761).
Converting micrograms per liter (µg/L) to micromoles per liter (µM/L)
To convert a concentration of an element given as micrograms per liter (µg/L) to units of
micromoles per liter (µM/L), you would divide the concentration in micrograms by the relative
atomic weight of the element. For example, to convert a nitrogen concentration of 100 µg/L to units of
µM/L you would divide 100 by nitrogen’s relative atomic weight of 14 to get 7.142 µM/L of nitrogen.
Notice how the abbreviation for nitrogen (N) is expressed in the equation below.
100 µg N/L = 100 (micrograms)
*
÷
14 (relative atomic weight for nitrogen) = 7.142 µM N/L
Using the table on page 28 we can see that the relative atomic weight for nitrogen is 14 (rounded from 14.0067).
Speaking in Molecular Terms
The following are terms that you are likely to hear within the water chemistry arena:
Atomic weight is approximately equal to the number of protons and neutrons found in an atom.
Gram atomic weight refers to the weight of an element in units of grams. Along those same
lines, if one were to express the weight of an element in units of milligrams, you would then refer
to it as the milligram atomic weight.
Micromolar solution refers to the molecular weight of a substance expressed as “micrograms
contained in one liter of water” (i.e., one-millionth of a gram molecular weight). For example a
micromolar solution of phosphorus contains 31 micrograms (µg) of phosphorus in one liter of water.
Molar solution is one mole dissolved in enough water to make one liter.
Mole is the molecular weight of a substance expressed in grams; also known as a gram molecule.
Chemists tend to use moles to describe chemical compounds.
Molecular weight refers to the combined (the sum) atomic weight of all the atoms in a
molecule.
Relative atomic weight refers to the relative weight of each element, based on the assigned
relative atomic mass of 12 C = 12.
35
Selected Scientific References
APHA. 1992. STANDARD METHODS for the examination of Water and Wastewater. American
Public Health Association, American Water Works Association, Water Environment Federation.
Washington, DC.
Florida LAKEWATCH. 1999. A Beginner’s Guide to Water Management – The ABCs (Circular 101).
Descriptions of Commonly Used Terms. Florida LAKEWATCH, Department of Fisheries and
Aquatic Sciences, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), University of Florida,
Gainesville, Florida.
Florida LAKEWATCH. 2000. A Beginner’s Guide to Water Management – Nutrients (Circular 102).
Florida LAKEWATCH, Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.
Florida LAKEWATCH. 2000. A Beginner’s Guide to Water Management – Water Clarity (Circular 103).
Florida LAKEWATCH, Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.
Florida LAKEWATCH. 2001. A Beginner’s Guide to Water Management – Lake Morphometry
(Circular 104). Florida LAKEWATCH, Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences,
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.
36
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