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Two or more elements combined in a fixed proportion.

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Credit: User:JohnABerring27A/Wikipedia
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ferris_Bueller_house_southeast_view.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

What do you need to start building a house?

When building a house, you start with a blueprint of what the house will look like.  The plan states how many windows and what kind, how many doors and what style, how many rooms and what type (bedroom, kitchen, other).  The blueprint shows how the different pieces will go together to make the house.  As long as the blueprint is followed and exactly the same items are used, the houses will be identical.


A compound is a substance that contains two or more elements chemically combined in a fixed proportion.  The elements carbon and hydrogen combine to form many different compounds.  One of the simplest is called methane, in which there are always four times as many hydrogen particles as carbon particles.  Methane is a pure substance because it always has the same composition.  However, it is not an element because it can be broken down into simpler substances – carbon and hydrogen. 

Recall that the components of a mixture can be separated from one another by physical means.  This is not true for a compound.  Table salt is a compound consisting of equal parts of the elements sodium and chlorine.  Salt cannot be separated into its two elements by filtering, distillation, or any other physical process.  Salt and other compounds can only be decomposed into their elements by a chemical process.  A chemical change is a change that produces matter with a different composition.  Many compounds can be decomposed into their elements by heating.  When sugar is heated, it decomposes to carbon and water.  Water is still a compound, but one which cannot be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen by heating.  Instead, the passage of an electrical current through water will produce hydrogen and oxygen gases.

The properties of compounds are generally very different than the properties of the elements from which the compound is formed.  Sodium is an extremely reactive soft metal that cannot be exposed to air or water.  Chlorine is a deadly gas.  The compound sodium chloride is a white solid which is essential for all living things (Figure below).

Sodium and chlorine combine to make sodium chloride, table salt

Credit: (A) Hi-Res Images of Chemical Elements; (B) User:Greenhorn1/Wikimedia Commons; (C) User:Miansari66/Wikimedia Commons
Source: (A) http://images-of-elements.com/sodium.php; (B) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chlorine2.jpg; (C) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salt_,_Lake_salt.JPG
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

(A) Sodium is so reactive that it must be stored under oil. (B) Chlorine is a poisonous yellow-green gas. (C) Salt crystals, a compound of sodium and chlorine[Figure2]

 Science Friday: Celebrating Explosive Chemistry

July Fourth: A day for picnics, parades and chemistry. In this video by Science Friday, Professor Bassam Shakhashiri explains some of the science of fireworks. 


  • A compound is a substance that contains two or more elements chemically combined in a fixed proportion.
  • A chemical change is a change that produces matter with a different composition.


  1. What is a compound?
  2. How is a compound different from an element?
  3. What is a chemical change?

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Use the resource below to answer the following questions.

  1. What lists all the elements we know about?
  2. What is the compound made out of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom?
  3. What is the compound made out of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms?

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  1. [1]^ Credit: User:JohnABerring27A/Wikipedia; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ferris_Bueller_house_southeast_view.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: (A) Hi-Res Images of Chemical Elements; (B) User:Greenhorn1/Wikimedia Commons; (C) User:Miansari66/Wikimedia Commons; Source: (A) http://images-of-elements.com/sodium.php; (B) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chlorine2.jpg; (C) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salt_,_Lake_salt.JPG; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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