It is said that electricity is electrons flowing from atoms but how come say a Nitrogen atom with 5 valence electrons missing 1 or adding 1 won't change the atom structure, I know protons will stay 7 but I don't understand the basic of how it flows and how does it affect the atom/ion itself, isn't it supposed to always have a certain number on each level, what if it passes many times won't it steal or give too many electrons, thank you (high school student =)


1 Answer 1


The identity of an atom is derived from its nucleus, which doesn't participate in chemical reactions. As long as the nucleus has the same charge, it exerts a certain force on electrons in the vicinity - which results in certain stable orbitals for electrons.

Now depending on what number of electrons (with what energy) is in the vicinity of the nucleus, you can have the atom in different states: stable ground state, ionized, bound to another atom... the actual distribution of electrons is what gives the atom its chemical properties - and these do change. But that doesn't change the identity of the atom.

  • $\begingroup$ interesting, but say current passing through a wire does it modify those valence electrons or just for the time passing through then they are back to 5 (nitrogen again)? $\endgroup$ Apr 24, 2017 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ Note that "current passing" usually implies the existence of a conduction band - a state in which electrons behave almost like a gas, free to move about (not tightly bound to a particular nucleus). By contrast, in insulators the electrons are bound to a specific atom. Your question is hard to answer because it doesn't seem to make that distinction. $\endgroup$
    – Floris
    Apr 24, 2017 at 22:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ it s fine, you answered perfectly now I understand so in copper, electrons are almost acting like a gas which makes conductivity easier.. $\endgroup$ Apr 24, 2017 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ In fact, because like charges repel each other, the electrons act almost like an incompressible liquid. If you "shove" one electron into the end of a neutral conducting wire, the electrostatic repulsion will tend to shove an electron out the other end of the wire in order to maintain electrostatic neutrality. $\endgroup$ Apr 24, 2017 at 23:50

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