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The Ion: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Shoshana Yarin

Shoshana has taught all grades with an emphasis in science and has a master's degree in science.

All the stuff in the universe is matter. Matter is made of tiny particles, which can be atoms, molecules or ions. Learn about the ion as one of the particles of matter in this lesson.

What are the Smallest Particles of Matter?

If you tore up a piece of paper into smaller and smaller pieces, you could eventually get down to a molecule of paper. That molecule, in turn, is constructed of atoms. Atoms combine in different ways to make up all the substances in the universe, including paper and you!

You may already be familiar with atoms, but have you ever heard of an ion? An ion is a slightly different form of an atom. Maybe you've seen two cars that looked exactly alike. Well, perhaps you thought they were alike, but one of the cars had tinted windows, a video screen and leather seats. An ion is kind of like the car that is different in some way. To understand the difference, we have to look a little closer into the atom.

What Makes Up An Atom?

Car with parts
Car with parts

Just like a car is made of many parts, an atom is made of particles. You may know that an atom is made of smaller particles called protons, neutrons and electrons, but let's look closer at how they make up an atom. Bunched together in the very center of the atom are the protons and neutrons. These make up the nucleus:

  • Protons are special because they have a positive charge, like the plus sign on a battery. The number of protons in an atom determines what the atom is. For example, one proton means an atom of hydrogen, and eight protons means an atom of oxygen.
  • Neutrons are just neutral, with no charge.

Then we find the electrons, which zoom in orbit around the nucleus (core). Electrons have a negative charge, like the other end of the battery with a minus sign.

Atom model
Atom Model

How is An Ion Different?

If you've ever played with a bar magnet, you may remember that there is a North and a South, or a positive and negative end. Opposite charges attract, so the negative electrons are attracted to the positive protons. That's why they stay in orbit. In fact, an atom has the same number of electrons and protons. That way, all the negative charges cancel out all the positive charges, so we say the atom is neutral.

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