How to Solve Chemistry Isotope Problems

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Chemistry isotope problems require you to follow a few basic, easy to manage steps in order to find a solution. Solve chemistry isotope problems with help from a teacher with over 20 years of experience in this free video clip.

Part of the Video Series: Chemistry and Physics Calculations
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Janice. I teach science here in Clearwater, Florida, and I'm here today to talk to you about how you solve chemistry isotope problems. Well, first of all, what's an isotope? Well, an isotope or isotopes are different atoms of an element that have the same numbers of protons and electrons, but they have different numbers of neutrons. And that's important, because the protons and the neutrons are going to be involved in the isotope calculations. So, when you look at an element on a periodic table, say, something like carbon, carbon's typically going to have two numbers. You're going to see it in a box, and there's usually a whole number on the top, and a number that might have decimal places on the bottom. Now, this number on the top is what we call the atomic number, and that equals the number of protons. This number down here is the atomic mass. An atomic mass is protons plus neutrons, because the protons and the neutrons are the things in the atom that actually have mass. So, when you want to do an isotope calculation, you take the atomic number and you subtract it from the atomic mass, and that's going to give you the number of neutrons. So, in this case, that would be six, six neutrons. But carbon has another form. You may have heard something called carbon 14. They use it to date fossils that are really really really old. So, carbon 14 is an isotope of carbon 12. It has a mass of sixteen, but its atomic number is going to stay the same. The atomic number is never going to change, but the atomic mass might. Well, I'm going to do the same process. I'm going to subtract six from fourteen, and this time I'm going to get eight. So that means that there are eight neutrons in carbon 14, whereas that there are only six neutrons in carbon 12. These would be isotopes of each other. So, subtract the atomic mass, excuse me, atomic number from the atomic mass and that's how you figure out the number of neutrons, which is what you do for isotopes. I'm Janice. Have a great day.


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