Atomic Structure (OCR A Level Physics)

Revision Note

Test Yourself
Katie M


Katie M



Atomic Structure

  • The atoms of all elements are made up of three types of particles: protons, neutrons and electrons.

Nucleus and electrons, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

Protons and neutrons are found in the nucleus of an atom while electrons orbit the nucleus

  • The properties of each particle in SI units are shown in the table below:

Atomic Structure - Mass & Charge table, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

  • It is important to know the relative masses and charges that protons, neutrons and electrons have in relation to each other
  • The relative properties of each particle are shown in the table below:

Table of nuclear properties, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

  • A stable atom is neutral (it has no charge)
  • Since protons and electrons have the same charge, but opposite signs, a stable atom has an equal number of both for the overall charge to remain neutral

Exam Tip

Remember not to mix up the ‘atom’ and the ‘nucleus’. The ‘atom’ consists of the nucleus and electrons. The ‘nucleus’ just consists of the protons and neutrons in the middle of the atom, not the electrons.

Relative Sizes of the Atom and Nucleus

Relative Sizes

Atomic Structure, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

An atom: a small positive nucleus, surrounded by negative electrons

  • The atom is around 100,000 times larger than the nucleus!
    • The diameter of an atom is 1 x 10−10 m
    • The diameter of a nucleus is 1 x 1015 m
    • So, 1 x 10-15 x 100,000 = 1 x 1010

Closest Approach Method

  • In the Rutherford scattering experiment, alpha particles are fired at a thin gold foil
  • Some of the alpha particles are found to come straight back from the gold foil
  • This indicates that there is electrostatic repulsion between the alpha particles and the gold nucleus

  • At the point of closest approach, r, the repulsive force reduces the speed of the alpha particles to zero momentarily
  • At this point, the initial kinetic energy of an alpha particle, Ek, is equal to electric potential energy, Ep
  • The radius of the closest approach can be found be equating the initial kinetic energy to the electric potential energy

  • Equating the two equations gives:

Closest Approach Method, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

Exam Tip

It is important to understand that the nucleus is tiny compared to the size of the atom around it.

You've read 0 of your 0 free revision notes

Get unlimited access

to absolutely everything:

  • Downloadable PDFs
  • Unlimited Revision Notes
  • Topic Questions
  • Past Papers
  • Model Answers
  • Videos (Maths and Science)

Join the 100,000+ Students that ❤️ Save My Exams

the (exam) results speak for themselves:

Did this page help you?

Katie M

Author: Katie M

Katie has always been passionate about the sciences, and completed a degree in Astrophysics at Sheffield University. She decided that she wanted to inspire other young people, so moved to Bristol to complete a PGCE in Secondary Science. She particularly loves creating fun and absorbing materials to help students achieve their exam potential.