So I understand that an atom can gain or lose electrons and still retain it's identity - for example a Carbon atom is still carbon even if it loses 5 of it's 6 electrons because it is the number of protons that make it what it is.

But it is also still Carbon if it gains electrons (becoming an ion).

So, the since the electrons counter the charge of the protons, an atom with not enough electrons becomes unstable. Does that mean it is in danger of losing its protons and changing into another element?

Can you have too many electrons in an atom? If the Carbon atom gains another 6 electrons somehow, does that mean it is unstable and in danger of attracting more protons and thus changing into another element?


2 Answers 2


You've got quite a few questions here all in one, but will try to touch on all of them:

The "identity of an atom" is an agreed upon definition: the identity is defined by the number of protons. So loosing or gaining electrons will not change its identity. However gaining and loosing electrons can and does change the properties and behavior of an atom.

Not sure what you mean by "unstable" or what you are referring to when you say that "an atom with not enough electrons becomes unstable". In general, all ions (atoms with either more, or less, electrons than protons) tend to become more chemically reactive. That is not necessarily the same as unstable. Unstable can also mean that it may be difficult to maintain certain ionic state: that is, some ions will have a strong tendency to either gain or loose electrons until they become either a uncharged atom, or an ion that is more stable. But in this context we are talking about the stability of the atom's electronic structure, not of the nucleus. Thus there is not (under most normal circumstances) an issue of gaining or loosing protons simply because the atom has gained or lost electrons.

Regarding your last question "Can you have too many electrons in an atom?" The answer is no. As you add electrons to an atom, a point will be reached where that atom will not be able to accept more electrons (as such a process is energetically unfavorable). This gets back to the "stability" question, but again we are talking about the stability of the atom's electronic structure (not its nucleus). If an electron somehow manages to have enough energy to get into the electronic structure of an already highly negative atom (ion), that new, more negative, ionic state may be unstable: but what this means is that the atom would very likely, quickly loose the additional electron and return to a more stable, more favorable energy state.

Finally, regarding the issue discussed in the other post to which you provided a link, i.e. whether positive ions with no electrons are considered atoms, it really depends on the context of the discussion. A hydrogen ion, H+, is also just a proton, but typically in a chemical or biochemical context we regard it as an ionized hydrogen atom. Again, ions have different behaviors than their uncharged atoms, but we still typically "identify" them by the number of protons in our discussions.

P.S. Regarding your comment on the other answer: "... where do you go to ... find answers? So how do you know what the fixed capacity of electrons for a atom is? How do you know it can't accept 6 electrons?"
The questions that you are asking are for the most part Basic Chemistry. Get a good basic chemistry textbook and read the first few chapters. There you will learn about the electronic structure of atoms, orbitals, how many electrons each orbital can hold, how much energy it takes to add or remove electrons. There is also a concept called "electronegativity" which you should pay attention to. It is a measure of how strongly a given atom's nucleus holds onto the electrons.

Questions of stability, and how many electrons can be added or removed always come down to energy. If an atom is highly electronegative (has a very strong hold on its electrons) then it may take a lot of energy to remove an electron and make a positive ion. And each electron removed may increase the atom's electronegativity so that removing the next electron takes even more energy. This is especially true for a "full" electron shell configuration (again learn about this in a basic chemistry textbook: full orbitals or electron shells are very energetically stable, and therefore it takes a lot of energy to either add or remove an electron). The amount of energy required will ultimately (in practical terms) limit the number of electrons that can be added or removed.

Aside from a good basic chemistry textbook, here's one place where you can get some basic concepts without too much detail:

Start here: Elements and Atoms

Then here: Electron Shells and Orbitals

After the above, if you want a lot more detail, get a good textbook or try these:

  • $\begingroup$ Well dysprosium-163 becomes unstable to beta decay to Holmium if you remove all its electrons. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2023 at 4:29
  • $\begingroup$ @blademan9999 Please provide a reference; or I think you have it reversed: Ho-163 decays to Dy-163, and not by removing all electrons, rather by a process known as electron capture, a difficult and rare process whereby an electron "falls" into the nucleus and converts a proton to a neutron. The atom's type is still determined by the number of protons only. The OP's question is still one of basic chemistry. Otherwise, provide a reference for your assertion. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2023 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ Normally : Ho-163 decays to Dy-163, but when ALL it's electrons are removed, Dy-163 66+ can decay to Ho-163 67+ $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2023 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ @blademan9999 Assuming you have a legitamate reference for your claim, the removal of the electrons from Dy-163 is not what causes its transformation to Ho-163. Rather, removing the electrons promotes Beta Decay which involves the nucleus (not the atom's electrons). Since beta decay involves transforming protons to neutrons or vis versa, nothing written above is contradicted. Thank you for your contribution. $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2023 at 12:59

First Of all carbon Cannot Lose 6 Electrons And second thing Neither It can Accept 6 Electrons . If I clear Your Concepts It's Actually Like that There is the Fixed Charge(Electrons) Holding Capacity of a Nucleus Due to number of protons .Take an Example There Are 10 Protons in a Nucleus So it Can Hold 10 Electrons Comfortably +10 -10 =0 This show Stable atom But if You add 5 more Electrons than due to Very much high number of electrons it Will become Very much Unstable even We cannot Do that in any case Because of the Fixed capacity As discussed Above . It's Just Sufficient For you to Understand that there is a fixed capacity of the Atom to Hold electrons Which cannot Be Exceeded .. And Please increase Your Knowledge A light weight Electrons lump cannot Attract protons to form New Compound its totally Wrong Concept Chap . Study Before You Ask ..

  • $\begingroup$ I've been reading for hours. There is so much to read but I couldn't get past a few concepts (where do you go to get read the answer to the questions you can't find answers to? Here? Maybe not? eh?) However, I know my concepts are unclear. So how do you know what the fixed capacity of electrons for a atom is? How do you know it can't accept 6 electrons? $\endgroup$
    – bgmCoder
    Apr 5, 2016 at 18:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This answer is very hard to read. Please use standard capitalization and punctuation. $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind
    Apr 5, 2016 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @bgmCoder This answer is hard to understand at best. Since you are struggling to understand the concepts, I would not read this answer. There is no fixed capacity. There's no clarification here. $\endgroup$
    – garyp
    Apr 6, 2016 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ Have You read Bohar Model Of atom ??? $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2016 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ You Are not interested In building concepts and You are not learning basics , Why Jumping to high Level ... $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2016 at 16:52

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