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Name: Mark
Status: student
Grade: 4-5
Location: CA
Country: N/A
Date: November 2006

Can atoms come in different shapes?

The shape an atom takes up is actually very important in chemistry. An atom is made up of a small core, called a nucleus (with protons and neutrons), and electrons, which are found outside of the nucleus. Scientists have come up with models to describe where the electrons can be found (you cannot know exactly where the electrons will be, so you can only say where they are most likely to be, this is known as the uncertainty principle), and these are called orbitals. As an atom gets more and more electrons, they have to fit into different orbitals. The shapes of these orbitals varies, here is a good link that talks about the shapes of atomic orbitals:

When you add up all the orbitals the general shape of the atom is still round, but the fact that different electrons live in different shaped orbitals is actually very important when thinking about how atoms can be put together by bonds.

Hope that helps,

Ethan Greenblatt
Stanford Department of Chemistry

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