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Defining characteristics of neutrally charged sub atomic particles and their role in atomic structure

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What Is a Neutron?

A neutron is one of three main particles that make up the atom. The other two particles are the proton and electron. Atoms of all elements—except for most atoms of hydrogen—have neutrons in their nucleus. The nucleus is the small, dense region at the center of an atom where protons are also found. Atoms generally have about the same number of neutrons as protons. For example, all carbon atoms have six protons and most also have six neutrons. A model of a carbon atom is shown in the Figure below. For an excellent video explaining the structure of atoms, including neutrons, go to this URL:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vi91qyjuknM (7:44)

Properties of Neutrons

Unlike protons and electrons, which are electrically charged, neutrons have no charge. In other words, they are electrically neutral.

Same Element, Different Numbers of Neutrons

All the atoms of a given element have the same number of protons and electrons. The number of neutrons, however, may vary for atoms of the same element. For example, almost 99 percent of carbon atoms have six neutrons, but the rest have either seven or eight neutrons. Atoms of an element that differ in their numbers of neutrons are called isotopes. The nuclei of these isotopes of carbon are shown in the Figure below. The isotope called carbon-14 is used to find the ages of fossils. You can learn how at this URL: http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geology/carbon-14.htm.

Q: Notice the names of the carbon isotopes in the diagram. Based on this example, infer how isotopes of an element are named.

A: Isotopes of an element are named for their total number of protons and neutrons.

Q: The element oxygen has 8 protons. How many protons and neutrons are there in oxygen-17?

A: Oxygen-17—like all atoms of oxygen—has 8 protons. Its name provides the clue that it has a total of 17 protons and neutrons. Therefore, it must have 9 neutrons (8 + 9 = 17).


  • A neutron is one of three main particles that make up the atom. It is found in the nucleus and is neutral in electric charge. It has about the same mass and diameter as a proton. Neutrons are found in all atoms except for most atoms of hydrogen.
  • All the atoms of a given element have the same number of protons and electrons, but they may vary in their numbers of neutrons. Atoms of the same element that differ in their numbers of neutrons are called isotopes.
  • Neutrons consist of fundamental particles known as quarks and gluons. Gluons carry the strong nuclear force that binds together the quarks in a neutron.


  • neutron: Electrically neutral atomic particle inside the nucleus of an atom.


Read the article on neutrons at the following URL, and then complete the fill-in statements below.


  1. _________ are created when you change the normal number of neutrons in an atom.
  2. If many neutrons are added to an atom, it becomes _________.
  3. Extra neutrons may be knocked out of the nucleus during the process of _________.
  4. The only element that normally lacks neutrons is _________.


  1. What is a neutron?
  2. Compare and contrast neutrons and protons.
  3. Explain how isotopes of an element differ from one another. Give an example.
  4. Identify the fundamental particles that make up a neutron.

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