Difference Between Atom vs Element

Difference Between Atom vs Element

Natural vacuums do not exist on earth. What this means is that everything around us including the air we breathe is made of matter. Everything has weight and occupies space. When you break them down, you can learn more about them and how they function in their most fundamental state.

Speaking of breaking things down, we are going to compare two of the smallest forms of matter to see how they are different from one another. We will be discussing the difference between element and atom including what they are, how they function, and what makes them unique.

Definition of Atom

An atom is defined as the smallest part of an element that consists of a nucleus made of protons and neutrons orbited by electrons. From another perspective, it can also be defined as the most fundamental unit of a substance that defines the structure of elements.

You can attempt to rip apart an object, say a piece of paper, to get the smallest piece you can possibly make, but this is not an atom because you can see it. In reality, the smallest part of a substance cannot be seen with the naked eye; it can only be seen under a microscope.

The term has a Greek origin that literally translates to “indivisible.” It was around 450 BC when it was first hypothesized. However, over two thousand years later, it was discovered that this microscopic substance was not indivisible after all, thanks to John Dalton, who developed the atomic theory as we know it today.

On a closer look, atoms are made of three unique particles known as protons, electrons, and neutrons. On an even closer look, these unique particles are said to be made of quarks, which are even smaller.

Definition of Element

An element is a fundamental chemical substance that cannot be further broken down into separate elements by any chemical means. It is worth emphasizing the fact that no chemical means can further split a fundamental chemical substance. When subjected to a nuclear reaction, it may result in a new substance.

According to scientists, this is a tricky concept to nail down considering that there may be more to it than what they currently know. Elements were first discovered in 1649, and in the eighteenth century, an English chemist known as John Newlands divided them into 11 groups.

There were only 56 of them then. Six years later, Dimitri Mendeleev started developing the periodic table and arranging the elements by their atomic mass.

Currently, there are one hundred and eighteen of them in the periodic table, and reliable sources have revealed that research is ongoing to discover more. If more are discovered, the periodic table would have to be adjusted to include them.

One thing to keep in mind in the element vs atom comparison is that every form of the former contains the latter, irrespective of what form of reaction to which it may be subjected.

Main Differences Between Atom vs Element

There are a few other things you may want to add to your knowledge of these two. Sometimes, these two are confused for each other, which should not be the case. The table below summarizes the difference between atom and element.

Basis of ComparisonAtomElement
DefinitionThe smallest part of an element that consists of a nucleus made of protons and neutrons orbited by electronsA fundamental chemical substance that cannot be further broken down into separate elements by any chemical means
ConstituentsProton, neutron, electronAtom(s)
SizeVery tinyComparably bigger
Types92 types – antimatter, ion, isotopes, etc.118 known elements – oxygen, hydrogen, potassium, etc.
CategoriesNon-metals, metals, and semimetalsThere are no categories

Difference Between Atom and Element: Conclusion

In conclusion, do you know that any of these two can combine with each other to form a molecule? That is, in the atom vs element comparison, more than one of the former can come together to form a molecule, and more than one of the latter can also come together to form a molecule. This similarity is one of the reasons people may be confused especially if they do not have fundamental knowledge of the two in detail.