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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain the relationship between molecules and compounds
  • Distinguish between ions, cations, and anions
  • Identify the key difference between ionic and covalent bonds
  • Distinguish between nonpolar and polar covalent bonds
  • Explain how water molecules link via hydrogen bonds

Atoms separated by a great distance cannot link; rather, they must come close enough for the electrons in their valence shells to interact. But do atoms ever actually touch one another? Most physicists would say no, because the negatively charged electrons in their valence shells repel one another. No force within the human body—or anywhere in the natural world—is strong enough to overcome this electrical repulsion. So when you read about atoms linking together or colliding, bear in mind that the atoms are not merging in a physical sense.

Instead, atoms link by forming a chemical bond. A bond    is a weak or strong electrical attraction that holds atoms in the same vicinity. The new grouping is typically more stable—less likely to react again—than its component atoms were when they were separate. A more or less stable grouping of two or more atoms held together by chemical bonds is called a molecule    . The bonded atoms may be of the same element, as in the case of H 2 , which is called molecular hydrogen or hydrogen gas. When a molecule is made up of two or more atoms of different elements, it is called a chemical compound    . Thus, a unit of water, or H 2 O, is a compound, as is a single molecule of the gas methane, or CH 4 .

Three types of chemical bonds are important in human physiology, because they hold together substances that are used by the body for critical aspects of homeostasis, signaling, and energy production, to name just a few important processes. These are ionic bonds, covalent bonds, and hydrogen bonds.

Ions and ionic bonds

Recall that an atom typically has the same number of positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. As long as this situation remains, the atom is electrically neutral. But when an atom participates in a chemical reaction that results in the donation or acceptance of one or more electrons, the atom will then become positively or negatively charged. This happens frequently for most atoms in order to have a full valence shell, as described previously. This can happen either by gaining electrons to fill a shell that is more than half-full, or by giving away electrons to empty a shell than is less than half-full, thereby leaving the next smaller electron shell as the new, full, valence shell. An atom that has an electrical charge—whether positive or negative—is an ion    .

Visit this website to learn about electrical energy and the attraction/repulsion of charges. What happens to the charged electroscope when a conductor is moved between its plastic sheets, and why?

Potassium (K), for instance, is an important element in all body cells. Its atomic number is 19. It has just one electron in its valence shell. This characteristic makes potassium highly likely to participate in chemical reactions in which it donates one electron. (It is easier for potassium to donate one electron than to gain seven electrons.) The loss will cause the positive charge of potassium’s protons to be more influential than the negative charge of potassium’s electrons. In other words, the resulting potassium ion will be slightly positive. A potassium ion is written K + , indicating that it has lost a single electron. A positively charged ion is known as a cation    .

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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