Why is an atom electrically neutral?


An atom is the smallest unit of matter that retains the chemical properties of an element. It consists of a dense nucleus, containing positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons, surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. Despite having both positive and negative charges, atoms are electrically neutral overall. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the electric neutrality of atoms in detail.

Table of Contents

Subatomic Particles

Before delving into the electric neutrality of atoms, let’s briefly understand the three subatomic particles that make up an atom:

  • Protons: Positively charged particles found in the nucleus of an atom. They have a relative charge of +1 and a relative mass of approximately 1 atomic mass unit (amu).
  • Neutrons: Uncharged particles also located in the nucleus. They have a relative charge of 0 and a relative mass of approximately 1 amu.
  • Electrons: Negatively charged particles that orbit the nucleus. They have a relative charge of -1 and a negligible mass compared to protons and neutrons.

Atomic Structure Topic 2 : [ Why an Atom is Electrically Neutral ?]

Charge of Subatomic Particles

The charges of subatomic particles play a crucial role in determining the overall charge of an atom. Protons carry a positive charge, electrons carry a negative charge, and neutrons have no charge. These charges are fundamental properties of these particles and cannot be altered without external influence.

Atomic Structure

The atomic structure refers to the organization of subatomic particles within an atom. The nucleus, located at the center, contains protons and neutrons tightly bound together. Electrons occupy distinct energy levels or orbitals surrounding the nucleus.

Electrons in Atoms

Electrons are crucial in determining the chemical behavior of an atom. They exist in specific energy levels or shells around the nucleus. The first shell can hold up to 2 electrons, while the subsequent shells have higher capacities. The distribution of electrons within these shells follows specific rules, such as the Aufbau principle, Pauli exclusion principle, and Hund’s rule.

Electron Distribution

The electron distribution in an atom is organized into electron configurations. These configurations describe the arrangement of electrons in various energy levels and sublevels. The distribution is determined by the atomic number of the element, which corresponds to the number of protons in the nucleus.

Example: Electron Configuration of Oxygen (O)

Energy Level Sublevel Electron Count
1 s 2
2 s 2
2 p 4

In the case of oxygen, the electron configuration is 1s2 2s2 2p4. This means that oxygen has 2 electrons in the first energy level, 2 electrons in the second energy level (2s sublevel), and 4 electrons in the second energy level (2p sublevel).


Ionization refers to the process in which an atom gains or loses electrons, resulting in the formation of charged particles called ions. When an atom gains or loses electrons, it becomes either positively or negatively charged.

Electrically Neutral Atoms

Atoms are electrically neutral because the number of protons (positive charges) is equal to the number of electrons (negative charges). The positive charges in the nucleus are balanced out by the negative charges of the surrounding electrons, resulting in a net charge of zero.

Role of Electrons

Electrons play a crucial role in determining the chemical properties and reactivity of an atom. The arrangement and distribution of electrons in an atom’s energy levels determine how it interacts with other atoms.

Valence Electrons

Valence electrons are the electrons present in the outermost energy level of an atom. These electrons are involved in chemical bonding and determine the atom’s ability to form chemical compounds. The number of valence electrons influences an atom’s reactivity and its position in the periodic table.

Interactions Between Atoms

Atoms interact with each other through various types of chemical bonding. These interactions include:

  • Covalent Bonding: Sharing of electrons between atoms to achieve a stable electron configuration.
  • Ionic Bonding: Transfer of electrons from one atom to another, resulting in the formation of oppositely charged ions that attract each other.
  • Metallic Bonding: Delocalized sharing of electrons among a lattice of metal atoms.

Real-Life Examples

The concept of electrically neutral atoms is essential in understanding various phenomena in our everyday lives. Here are a few examples:

  • Chemical Reactions: The interaction of atoms in chemical reactions is based on the exchange, sharing, or redistribution of electrons.
  • Electric Conductivity: Materials with a balance of positive and negative charges can conduct electricity due to the movement of electrons.
  • Electrostatics: The neutral nature of atoms allows for the buildup of static charges through the transfer of electrons.


The electric neutrality of atoms arises from the equal number of positive protons and negative electrons. This delicate balance allows atoms to interact with one another, form chemical compounds, and participate in various processes essential for life and the functioning of our world. Understanding the electric neutrality of atoms is fundamental to comprehending the behavior of matter and the principles of chemistry.

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