Isotopes (Greek isos = "equal", tópos = "site, place") are any of the different types of atoms (nuclides) of the same chemical element, each having a different atomic mass (mass number). Isotopes of an element have nuclei with the same number of protons (the same atomic number) but different numbers of neutrons. Therefore, isotopes of the same element have different mass numbers (number of nucleons).
A nuclide is any particular atomic nucleus with a specific atomic number Z and mass number A; it is equivalently an atomic nucleus with a specific number of protons and neutrons. Collectively, all the isotopes of all the elements form the set of nuclides. The distinction between the terms isotope and nuclide has somewhat blurred, and they are often used interchangeably. If they are to be distinguished in use, isotope is better used in its original sense, when referring to several different nuclides of the same chemical element. Nuclide is a later and more generic term, and is used when referencing to only one type of nucleus, and may also be used to refer to several types of nuclei of different elements. For example, it is better to say that an element such as fluorine consists of one stable nuclide rather than that it has one stable isotope, because the latter word is usually reserved to refer to more than one nuclide. On the other hand, carbon can be correctly said to have two stable isotopes, and fluorine to have several radioactive isotopes.
Isotopes and nuclides are specified by the name of the particular element, implicitly giving the atomic number, followed by a hyphen and the mass number (e.g. helium-3, carbon-12, carbon-13, iodine-131 and uranium-238). In symbolic form, the number of nucleons is denoted as a superscripted prefix to the chemical symbol (e.g. 3He, 12C, 13C, 131I and 238U).
About 339 nuclides occur naturally on Earth, of which 256 (about 75%) are stable (or, to be careful, have never been observed to decay; this note is necessary because many "stable" isotopes are predicted to be radioactive with very long half-lives). Counting the radioactive nuclides not found in nature that have been created artificially, more than 3100 nuclides are currently known.
Please, allow us to send you push notifications with new Alerts.