Basic chemistry

What is an element in chemistry with examples?

The concept of element

A chemical element is a substance that cannot be broken down into smaller or simpler parts. A chemical element is a specific type of matter, made up entirely of atoms of the same kind. For example: oxygen (O), phosphorus (P), carbon (C), nitrogen (N), silver (Ag).

Each element is represented by its own letter (or a set of letters), and they are organized and classified according to their properties in the “Periodic Table of Elements”. Currently, around 118 chemical elements are known, most of them naturally existing, and others (very heavy and unstable) could only be created in laboratories.


The first attempt to explain the concept of the chemical element was made in 1661 by the English naturalist Robert Boyle . In his book ‘The Skeptical Chymist’, the German version of which appeared in 1929, he wrote: “Elements are certain primitive and simple, completely unmixed bodies; they contain no other bodies, they are the ingredients from which all perfectly mixed bodies are composed and into which these are ultimately broken down. ”

Robert Boyle
Robert Boyle (1627-1691)

Boyle made no effort to identify specific substances as elements, but emphasized that the identification of elements is only possible through experimentation.

In 1789, Boyle’s element definition was confirmed and slightly modified by the French chemist Antoine de Laurent Lavoisier . In his main work ‘Traité élémentaire de chimie’ he defined a chemical element as a substance that cannot be broken down into simpler substances. He also wrote that a chemical compound is created by putting elements together.

Antoine Lavoisier
Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794)

Lavoisier correctly identified 23 elements. However, he has mistakenly interpreted some simple connections as well as light and warmth as elements. Lavoisier’s definition still applies today by and large:

An element is a substance that cannot be broken down further using chemical methods (heat, light, mechanical or electrical energy).

Now that a clear definition was established, Berzelius introduced the element symbols in 1813. It is about one or two letters, which are derived from the Latin name of the elements.

Types of chemical elements:

  • Metals . Characterized by being good conductors of electricity and heat, having a low ionization potential, as well as being malleable, ductile and oxidizing when losing electrons.

  • No metals . Characterized by having a high ionization capacity, a high tendency to gain electrons, and not being good conductors of electricity or heat.

  • Noble gases : They present chemical inertness, since they are extremely stable and do not tend to react chemically with other elements.

Examples of chemical elements

  1. Hydrogen (H)

  2. Helium (He)

  3. Lithium (Li)

  4. Beryllium (Be)

  5. Boron (B)

  6. Carbon (C)

  7. Nitrogen (N)

  8. Oxygen (O)

  9. Fluorine (F)

  10. Magnesium (Mg)

  11. Aluminum (Al)

  12. Neon (Ne)

  13. Sodium (Na)

  14. Francio (Fr)

  15. Radius (Ra)

  16. Gold (Au)

  17. Iron (Fe)

  18. Mercury (Hg)

  19. Thorium (Th)

  20. Uranium (U)

  21. Plutonium (Pu)

  22. Copper (Cu)

  23. Tin (Sn)

  24. Iodine (I)

  25. Sulfur (S)

  26. Curium (Cm)

  27. Californium (Cf)

  28. Antimony (Sb)

  29. Lead (Pb)

  30. Osmium (Os)

  31. Rhenium (Re)

  32. Tungsten (W)

  33. Hassio (Hs)

  34. Copernicium (Cn)

  35. Ununoctium (Uuo)

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