The affinity for electrons.
The atoms of the various elements differ in their affinity for electrons.
This image distorts the conventional periodic table of the elements so that the greater the electronegativity of an atom, the higher its position in the table.
Although fluorine (F) is the most electronegative element, it is the electronegativity of runner-up oxygen (O) that is exploited by life.
- The shuttling of electrons between carbon (C) and oxygen (O) atoms powers life.
- Moving electrons against the gradient (O to C) - as occurs in photosynthesis - requires energy (and stores it).
- Moving electrons down the gradient (C to O) - as occurs in cellular respiration - releases energy.
- The relative electronegativity of two interacting atoms also plays a major part in determining what kind of chemical bond forms between them.
- there is a large difference in electronegativity, so
- the chlorine atom takes an electron from the sodium atom.
- Result: an ionic bond
- the atoms become ions (Na+) and (Cl-) and are held together by their opposite electrical charge to form a crystal lattice (not molecules) of table salt (NaCl)
- each sodium ion is held by 6 chloride ions while each chloride ion is, in turn, held by 6 sodium ions
- Result: a cubical crystal of common table salt (below).
Example 2: Carbon (C) and Oxygen (O) = Covalent Bond
- there is only a small difference in electronegativity, so
- the two atoms share the electrons
- Result: a covalent bond (depicted as C:H or C-H)
- atoms held together by the mutual affinity for their shared electrons
- an array of atoms held together by covalent bonds forms a true molecule.
Example 3:Hydrogen (H) and Oxygen (O) = Polar Covalent Bond
Molecules, like water, with polar covalent bonds
- moderate difference in electronegativity, so
- oxygen atom pulls the electron of the hydrogen atom closer to itself
- Result: a polar covalent bond
- Oxygen does this with 2 hydrogen atoms to form a molecule of water
29 October 2000