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Relative Atom Masses

Author: John Hutchinson

We begin by assuming the central postulates of the Atomic Molecular Theory. These are: the elements are comprised of identical atoms; all atoms of a single element have the same characteristic mass; the number and masses of these atoms do not change during a chemical transformation; compounds consist of identical molecules formed of atoms combined in simple whole number ratios. We also assume a knowledge of the observed natural laws on which this theory is based: the Law of Conservation of Mass, the Law of Definite Proportions, and the Law of Multiple Proportions.

We have concluded that atoms combine in simple ratios to form molecules. However, we don't know what those ratios are. In other words, we have not yet determined any molecular formulae. In Table 2 of Concept Development Study #1, we found that the mass ratios for nitrogen oxide compounds were consistent with many different molecular formulae. A glance back at the nitrogen oxide data shows that the oxide B could be NO, NO2, N2O, or any other simple ratio.

Each of these formulae correspond to different possible relative atomic weights for nitrogen and oxygen. Since oxide B has oxygen to nitrogen ratio 1.14 : 1, then the relative masses of oxygen to nitrogen could be 1.14:1 or 2.28:1 or 0.57:1 or many other simple possibilities. If we knew the relative masses of oxygen and nitrogen atoms, we could determine the molecular formula of oxide B. On the other hand, if we knew the molecular formula of oxide B, we could determine the relative masses of oxygen and nitrogen atoms. If we solve one problem, we solve both. Our problem then is that we need a simple way to "count" atoms, at least in relative numbers.

Last Update: 2011-02-16