Introduction to Elements

With all the different substances that exist, you may be surprised to learn that they are formed from a relatively small number of elements. For example, carbon is one of 112 known elements. Yet carbon can combine with other elements (like hydrogen and oxygen) to form thousands of substances (like sugar, alcohol, and plastics). Although some elements have been known from the earliest times, most were discovered during the last 300 years.

Each element is unique with its own characteristics. Each element is represented conveniently by a symbol. For example: H is for hydrogen, O for oxygen, and Cl for chlorine. In addition, each element has its own atomic number and atomic weight. The symbols of the elements, along with their respective atomic numbers and atomic weights, are displayed in a special arrangement called the periodic table. Although the elements are arranged in order of increasing atomic number, the elements with similar chemical characteristics appear in columns. This organization is useful for studying chemistry.