Proton Definition: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Patrick Zedrow

Patrick has taught intermediate science, language arts, and technology. He has a master's degree in educational technology.

All matter is made up of elements. So why is everything around us so different? The answer has to do with tiny particles called protons. This lesson focuses on the nature of protons, where they're found, and how they work.

Protons, Protons, Everywhere

Look around you. Everything you can touch and feel is made up of atoms. Atoms are the smallest building block of solids, liquids, and gases. They are too small to see, but they make up things like your computer, the water you drink, and even the air you breathe. There are many types of atoms, including oxygen atoms, nitrogen atoms, and iron atoms. Each of these types are called elements.

You may notice that the element oxygen is a gas, the element chlorine has a strong smell, the element nickel has a silvery color, or many other features that are different among elements. What actually makes these elements different? The answer is simple: Their atoms have a different number of protons.

Protons are tiny particles inside the center of an atom. They they make up most of the weight of an atom, but they are still very small. In fact, if an atom was the size of a baseball stadium, each of its protons would still only be the size of a marble!

This a model of an atom. Protons are in the center of an atom.
This a model of an atom. Protons are in the center of an atom.

Consider this--you have a last name, a family bloodline, and a birthday that are all unique to you. If you had to prove who you are, you could use all of this information to do so. Atoms are very similar--they each have an identity too! Their number of protons make them a unique type of element. For example, oxygen atoms have 8 protons, hydrogen atoms only have 1, and gold atoms have 79. This number is like the identity of an element. You can tell a lot about an atom just by counting its protons!

The number of protons in an atom is what makes an element unique.
The number of protons in an atom is what makes an element unique.

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