An atom is the smallest particle characterizing a chemical element. An atom consists of an electron cloud surrounding a dense nucleus. This nucleus contains positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons, whereas the surrounding cloud is made up of negatively charged electrons. When the number of protons in the nucleus equals the number of electrons, the atom is electrically neutral; otherwise it is an ion and has a net positive or negative charge. An atom is classified according to its number of protons and neutrons: the number of protons determines the chemical element and the number of neutrons determines the isotope of that element.
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