Elect your Electrons

Nitrogen's atomic mass = (number of protons: 7) + (number of neutrons: 7) = 14. Therefore, a neutral nitrogen atom must also have 7 electrons to balance its 7 protons.

Electrons are very tiny particles which surround the nucleus of an atom. They all have a negative electrical charge. A neutral atom has an electrical charge of zero (same number of "--" electrons as "+" protons).

If an atom has fewer protons than electrons, it has an electrical charge of "minus". If an atom has more protons than electrons, its electrical charge is "plus".

Electrons are restricted to certain energy levels, called "shells", and they orbit within those shells. These energy levels form a regular pattern from the innermost shell out. The image below shows the various orbital energy levels, or shells, of the atom Nitrogen.

Every atom "looks for" the maximum number of electrons in each shell in order to become, and remain, "stable". That's why atoms share electrons with other atoms. This is known as forming covalent bonds.

The innermost orbit of any atom can contain up to 2 electrons. The next shell can contain up to 8. A 3rd shell will initially contain up to 8 electrons.

In the nitrogen illustration below, the 2nd shell can hold 8 electrons but contains only 5. In order for nitrogen to be stable, it needs 3 more electrons in its outer shell.

Because electrons tend to behave rather strangely, their orbits are best described as probability orbits.

Nitrogen atom

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