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What is an element? How many elements are there?

An element is a substance that is made entirely from one type of atom. For example, the element hydrogen is made from atoms containing a single proton and a single electron. If you change the number of protons an atom has, you change the type of element it is.

If you had very, very good eyes and could look at the atoms in a sample of hydrogen, you would notice that most of the hydrogen atoms would have no neutrons, some of them would have one neutron and a few of them would have two neutrons. These different versions of hydrogen are called isotopes. All isotopes of a particular element have the same number of protons, but have a different number of neutrons. If you change the number of neutrons an atom has, you make an isotope of that element.

Currently, scientists know of 118 different elements. Some, like gold, silver, copper and carbon, have been known for thousands of years. Others, such as meitnerium, darmstadtium and flerovium, have only recently been created by scientists. All known elements are arranged on a chart called the Periodic Table of Elements.

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