What are the fundamental units of all food and cooking processes? Atoms and molecules! All living systems (animals, microbes, and smaller life forms) are made of atoms and molecules. How these atoms and molecules are organized, interact, and react provides the building blocks and chemistry of life. It makes sense that to best understand cooking and baking at the molecular level, you must first appreciate how atoms and compounds are put together and function. Let’s start with the basics and ask, what is the difference between an atom and molecule? The answer is simple: an atom is the smallest basic building block of all matter, while molecules are made when two or more atoms are connected to one another. An atom consists of three main components also known as subatomic particles.
These subatomic particles are called protons, neutrons, and electrons. A simple description of what and where these particles are located is that protons and neutrons are found in the center or nucleus of the atom, while electrons orbit the core of the atom. Protons are positively charged particles with an atomic mass of one atomic mass unit.
Neutrons essentially also have an atomic mass of one, but do not have an electrical charge. Electrons have almost no mass and have an electrical charge of. The elements of the periodic table are arranged and defined by the number of pro- tons present within an atom of a given element. The number of protons defines an atom, not the electrons or neutrons. A quick examination of a periodic table shows that their proton number organizes atoms: from the smallest atom, hydrogen, to the largest atom, ununoctium.