In our last chemistry post, we went over Dalton’s atomic theory. I will return to this concept a few more times in upcoming posts, so keep it in the back of your mind. In this post, I will just briefly go over a very simple concept, atomic symbols and models. This is perhaps a concept that once you learn it the first time, you will never actually need to review it, explicitly. However, for first-time learners, this information is indispensable.
Different atoms of the different elements are represented using different symbols. This standardizes things and makes them simpler for everyone. An atomic symbol is a notation used to represent an atom that corresponds to a certain element, and is one or two letters in length. An example of this is O, for oxygen (simple!). It’s not always this easy, though. In some cases, the notation is not predictable, such as in the case of sodium, notated as Na. The “Na” for sodium comes from the Latin word “natrium,” which is a now obsolete word meaning the same thing as sodium, today (Ebbing and Gammon 2009). In every chemistry textbook that you will ever encounter, and even on the MCAT, you will receive a periodic table of elements, on which all of the abbreviations are listed. Sometimes, such as the case is rumored to be on the MCAT, however, the table used will not have the full name of the element, so you will have to get familiar with all of the abbreviations and what they stand for.
Incidentally, learning the names of elements over time throughout chemistry and organic chemistry courses comes naturally. You can find a full periodic table of elements at the Science Geek website (or with a simple Google search if none of those are particular appealing to you) for you to use as a reference and to continue learning. If you’d like to get a head start on memorizing some of the abbreviations on the table, feel free to. I personally suggest that you do some research on some of the most common elements that you’ll encounter in your studies of chemistry and organic chemistry. These elements should be your focus if you decide to memorize anything. For now, if you don’t know what anything else is on the periodic table of elements, ignore it. I’ll go over what each thing is, later on, if it is something you need to know. Remember that whatever periodic table of elements you decide to use in your study of chemistry, merely a bare bones one is provided on the MCAT. Thus, you can use as descriptive a table as you'd like to begin with, but over time you'll want to water it down to a table that gives less and less information, once you commit certain things to knowledge and memory. Think of it sort of as a crutch. You'll begin needing lots of help, but when you give it time, you'll no longer need as much supporting information to solve problems.
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