Cellular Chemistry

Contributor: Hannah Brooks. Lesson ID: 12126

The world consists of zillions of unlike things like stars, rocks, skin, water, and snakes. Yet they are all made from the same palette of elements in different combinations. Join us at the "table"!


Chemistry, Life Science

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

  • Did you know that everything on Earth is made up of combinations of the same 118 elements?
  • What kinds of things do you already know about chemistry?

That chemicals explode or turn colors? Chemistry has a lot of different kinds of interactions, and you will learn about some of the basics today.

In this lesson, you will learn about the foundation of chemistry. As you go, there are some vocabulary words you will want to keep track of. Go ahead and make a vocabulary journal before you dive into the learning!

  1. Take a sheet of notebook paper and divide it in half longways.
  2. On the left, put the title, "Term," and on the right, put the title, "Meaning." This is how you will organize the information you learn throughout the lesson.
  3. If a word is in italics, record the term and meaning in your vocabulary journal.

Example vocabulary journal:

Term Meaning
elements 118 unique substances organized on the periodic table


Start at the beginning with the basics: elements. Currently (2020), there are 118 known elements, and they are organized on the periodic table:

These elements are each unique because they have a specific number of protons. Protons are very small atomic particles with a positive charge.

You can tell how many protons each element has by looking at the number above its symbol in the periodic table. So, for example, the first element on the table, hydrogen, has the symbol H and the number 1 above it. That means it has 1 proton.

Go down to the bottom of the same column and find Francium, which has the symbol Fr.

  • How many protons does Francium have?

Elements also have electrons, atomic particles with a negative charge, and neutrons, particles with no charge. It's easy to tell the number of electrons an element has, because it's the same as the number of protons.

So, for example, hydrogen has 1 proton and 1 electron, while francium has 87 protons and 87 electrons.

  • But what about neutrons?

You have to do some subtraction to figure that out. Under each element's symbol, there is another number, called the atomic mass. It's hard to see it in the image above, but take a look at the Dynamic Periodic Table, created by Michael Dayah.

If you click on Francium, you'll see its atomic mass is 223. That number is the sum of the protons and neutrons. So, all we have to so is subtract the number of francium's protons (87) from its atomic number, 223, and we get 136.

If the atomic mass is a decimal, like 50.9, round up to the nearest whole number, 50.

Write down some notes now on how to find the number of protons, electrons, and neutrons in an element.

You'll need that information for the quiz in the next section.


Let's take a closer look at an atom. Below are two diagrams showing a carbon atom.

You can see that the electrons (marked E) orbit around the nucleus, which is composed of protons (P) and neutrons (N). In the second diagram, you can see how the electrons move in an elliptical orbit, and that some are closer to the nucleus, while others are farther away.

Metals, Nonmetals, and Metalloids

If you look closely, you'll notice something else about the periodic table.

The periodic table is divided into three main groups - metals, nonmetals, and metalloids - based on the arrangement of protons, electrons, and neutrons.

periodic table metals

Image released by copyright holder into the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In the image above, metals are shown with a blue color. Metals are usually solid at room temperature and are able to conduct electricity and heat.

Think about what happens to a metal spoon left on a hot stove! Ouch! Metals are able to be manipulated — we can pull them into wire or hammer them into sheets like aluminum foil.

Nonmetals are shown in the image above in a yellow color. Nonmetals can be gases, liquids, or solids. Oxygen is a gas a room temperature, but phosphorus is solid.

These elements do not conduct electricity and are a lot harder to manipulate. The atoms are usually farther apart, making it harder to change the shape or structure.

Metalloids are a special group, shown in pink. These elements have some characteristics of metals, but some of nonmetals. They can be any phase — solid, liquid, or gas — at room temperature.

Depending on how it is developed, silicon can conduct electricity or insulate substances. They have a very wide range of uses!

Scientists use the periodic table for organizing elements and also identifying unknown substances based on characteristics and atomic structure.

  • Based on what you have learned, how do you think the periodic table and life science are related?
  • How are metals and nonmetals different?
  • Why do you think we use metals in many technological products?
  • What role do you think electrons play in the ability to conduct electricity?
  • Ready to practice chemistry basics?

Move to the Got It? section to review the terms from this lesson.

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