What Is the Meaning of Isotopes?

Isotopes are atoms with the same number of electrons and protons but different numbers of neutrons. One element can have several different isotopes. They are all the same element but react in slightly different ways and have a different atomic mass.


Isotopes are atoms of the same element with a different atomic mass.

An atom is the smallest particle of an element which still carries all the properties of the element. Everything except energy is made up of atoms. An atom consists of three components, which are the protons, electrons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons make up the nucleus (center) of the atom, with electrons on the outside.

Protons and Electrons

Protons carry a positive charge, and electrons carry a negative charge, holding the atom together by the same principle seen in magnets. In a standard or neutral atom, the number of protons and electrons are the same.


Neutrons have the same mass as protons but are neutral (having no charge). Different isotopes have different numbers of neutrons but the same number of protons and electrons.

Atomic Mass

The atomic mass number is the number of neutrons plus the number of protons. Different isotopes of the same element have a different atomic mass due to the differing number of neutrons.

Unstable Isotopes

If an atom has too many or too few neutrons, it becomes unstable. Unstable atoms or isotopes are radioactive. Although it may survive intact for a short time, the nucleus of an unstable isotope will decay or change, expelling radiation in particle form or electromagnetic waves.

About the Author

Katy Willis has been writing articles since 2005, and writes regularly for several knowledge banks and product review sites. She's had articles published in the "Lynn News" and "Diva." She specializes in mental-health, healthcare, dementia, gardening-related topics, photography and LGBT issues. She earned a Bachelor of Science in mental health nursing and a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of East Anglia.