Each element has characteristic chemical properties. The periodic table, a systematic representation of known elements, is organized horizontally by increasing atomic number and vertically by families of elements with related chemical properties. The development of the periodic table (which occurred well before atomic substructure was understood) was a major advance, as its patterns suggested and led to the identification of additional elements with particular properties. Moreover, the table’s patterns are now recognized as related to the atom’s outermost electron patterns, which play an important role in explaining chemical reactivity and bond formation, and the periodic table continues to be a useful way to organize this information.
Understanding chemical reactions and the properties of elements is essential not only to the physical sciences but also is foundational knowledge for the life sciences and the earth and space sciences. The cycling of matter and associated transfers of energy in systems, of any scale, depend on physical and chemical processes. The reactivity of hydrogen ions gives rise to many biological and geophysical phenomena. The capacity of carbon atoms to form the backbone of extended molecular structures is essential to the chemistry of life. The carbon cycle involves transfers between carbon in the atmosphere—in the form of carbon dioxide—and carbon in living matter or formerly living matter (including fossil fuels). The proportion of oxygen molecules (i.e., oxygen in the form O2) in the atmosphere also changes in this cycle.
Naturally occurring food and fuel contain complex carbon-based molecules, chiefly derived from plant matter that has been formed by photosynthesis. The chemical reaction of these molecules with oxygen releases energy; such reactions provide energy for most animal life and for residential, commercial, and industrial activities.
. The chemical reaction by which plants produce complex food molecules (sugars) requires an energy input (i.e., from sunlight) to occur. In this reaction, carbon dioxide and water combine to form carbon-based organic molecules and release oxygen. (Boundary: Further details of the photosynthesis process are not taught at this grade level.)