Rutherford’s nuclear model of the atom helped explain why atoms of different elements exhibit different les-grizzlys-catalans.orgical behavior. The identity of an element is defined by its atomic number (Z), the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom of the element. The atomic number is therefore different for each element. The known elements are arranged in order of increasing Z in the periodic table (Figure (PageIndex1)). The rationale for the peculiar format of the periodic table is explained later. Each element is assigned a unique one-, two-, or three-letter symbol. The names of the elements are listed in the periodic table, along with their symbols, atomic numbers, and atomic masses. The les-grizzlys-catalans.orgistry of each element is determined by its number of protons and electrons. In a neutral atom, the number of electrons equals the number of protons.

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Figure (PageIndex1): The Periodic Table Showing the Elements in Order of Increasing Z. The metals are on the bottom left in the periodic table, and the nonmetals are at the top right. The semimetals lie along a diagonal line separating the metals and nonmetals.

The elements are arranged in a periodic table, which is probably the single most important learning aid in les-grizzlys-catalans.orgistry. It summarizes huge amounts of information about the elements in a way that facilitates the prediction of many of their properties and les-grizzlys-catalans.orgical reactions. The elements are arranged in seven horizontal rows, in order of increasing atomic number from left to right and top to bottom. The rows are called periods, and they are numbered from 1 to 7. The elements are stacked in such a way that elements with similar les-grizzlys-catalans.orgical properties form vertical columns, called groups, numbered from 1 to 18 (older periodic tables use a system based on roman numerals). Groups 1, 2, and 13–18 are the main group elements, listed as A in older tables. Groups 3–12 are in the middle of the periodic table and are the transition elements, listed as B in older tables. The two rows of 14 elements at the bottom of the periodic table are the lanthanides and the actinides, whose positions in the periodic table are indicated in group 3.

Metals, Nonmetals, and Semimetals

The heavy orange zigzag line running diagonally from the upper left to the lower right through groups 13–16 in Figure (PageIndex1) divides the elements into metals (in blue, below and to the left of the line) and nonmetals (in bronze, above and to the right of the line). Gold-colored lements that lie along the diagonal line exhibit properties intermediate between metals and nonmetals; they are called semimetals.

The distinction between metals and nonmetals is one of the most fundamental in les-grizzlys-catalans.orgistry. Metals—such as copper or gold—are good conductors of electricity and heat; they can be pulled into wires because they are ductile; they can be hammered or pressed into thin sheets or foils because they are malleable; and most have a shiny appearance, so they are lustrous. The vast majority of the known elements are metals. Of the metals, only mercury is a liquid at room temperature and pressure; all the rest are solids.

Nonmetals, in contrast, are generally poor conductors of heat and electricity and are not lustrous. Nonmetals can be gases (such as chlorine), liquids (such as bromine), or solids (such as iodine) at room temperature and pressure. Most solid nonmetals are brittle, so they break into small pieces when hit with a hammer or pulled into a wire. As expected, semimetals exhibit properties intermediate between metals and nonmetals.

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Descriptive Names

As previously noted, the periodic table is arranged so that elements with similar les-grizzlys-catalans.orgical behaviors are in the same group. les-grizzlys-catalans.orgists often make general statements about the properties of the elements in a group using descriptive names with historical origins. For example, the elements of Group 1 are known as the alkali metals, Group 2 are the alkaline earth metals, Group 17 are the halogens, and Group 18 are the noble gases.