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Isotopes of Hydrogen (1H, 2H, and 3H).

Isotopes are one of two or more atoms of the same element with the same number of protons (atomic number) but with different numbers of neutrons, resulting in different numbers of atomic mass.[1]

They are variations of chemical elements, such as Carbon-12 vs. Carbon-14. Although each element has the same number of protons (atomic number), they can have differing numbers of neutrons, and therefore different (atomic masses). Isotopes of any particular element can have different properties, and be more or less stable than others.

Atomic Mass

Main Article: Atomic mass

The atomic mass of an element is the average mass of the isotopes of that element.[2]. The atomic mass of any specific atom (or isotope) is a combination of the number of protons plus the number of neutrons it possesses. For example, carbon always has 6 protons and typically also has 6 neutrons, but some carbons have 7 neutrons, and a trace amount of carbon can be found with 8 neutrons. These variations of carbon atoms are what are known of as isotopes.

The atomic mass and thus the isotope a particular element is abbreviated with a superscript above the elemental symbol, such as 12C, 13C, and 14C. Alternatively, the isotope can be written in a hyphenated form such as Carbon-12 or C-12.

The atomic mass listed for each element in the Periodic Table of Elements is the average atomic mass of the various isotopes found in nature.

Isotope Atomic Mass
Carbon-12 6 Protons + 6 Neutrons
Carbon-13 6 Protons + 7 Neutrons
Carbon-14 6 Protons + 8 Neutrons

Isotopes, such as carbon-14, are used in radiometric dating procedures in attempt to assign dates to artifacts and rocks.


  1. Cox, H., Porch, T., Wetzel, J. Chemistry for Christian Schools. Bob Jones University Press; Greenville, South Carolina. 2000 (p.534).
  2. Cox, p.529