How do isotopes affect the atomic mass of an element?

1 Answer
May 9, 2018

An old story, and there will be many treatments of the topics on these boards.


The quoted atomic mass on the Periodic Table is the WEIGHTED average of the individual isotopic masses. The higher the isotopic percentage, the MORE that isotope will contribute to the isotopic mass. For this reason, most masses that are quoted on the Table are non-integral.

By way of example we could look to the hydrogen atom. The VAST majority of hydrogen atoms (in this universe) are the protium isotope. i.e. #""^1H#, whose nuclei contain JUST the defining proton. There is a smaller percentage (#>1%#) of hydrogen atoms WITH one NEUTRON in their nuclei to give the deuterium isotope. i.e. #""^2H#, and because this is relatively cheap, and easily incorporated into a molecule, deuterium labelling is routinely used in analysis.

And there is even a smaller percentage of hydrogen atoms with TWO NEUTRONS in their nuclei, to give the tritium isotope. i.e. #""^3H#. The weighted average of the isotopic percentages gives #1.00794*g*mol^-1#...the mass printed on the Periodic Table.