2.6: Molar Mass of Elements (2024)

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    Learning Objectives
    • Define Avogadro's number and explain why it is important to know.
    • Define the mole. Be able to calculate the number of moles in a given mass of a substance, or the mass corresponding to a given number of moles.
    • Define molecular weight, formula weight, and molar mass; explain how the latter differs from the first two.
    • Be able to find the number of atoms or molecules in a given weight of a substance.

    The chemical changes we observe always involve discrete numbers of atoms that rearrange themselves into new configurations. These numbers are HUGE— far too large in magnitude for us to count or even visualize, but they are still numbers, and we need to have a way to deal with them. We also need a bridge between these numbers, which we are unable to measure directly, and the weights of substances, which we do measure and observe. The mole concept provides this bridge, and is central to all of quantitative chemistry.

    Counting Atoms by the the moles

    The mole is an amount unit similar to familiar units like pair, dozen, gross, etc. It provides a specific measure of the number of atoms or molecules in a bulk sample of matter. A mole is defined as the amount of substance containing the same number of discrete entities (such as atoms, molecules, and ions) as the number of atoms in a sample of pure 12C weighing exactly 12 g. One Latin connotation for the word “mole” is “large mass” or “bulk,” which is consistent with its use as the name for this unit. The mole provides a link between an easily measured macroscopic property, bulk mass, and an extremely important fundamental property, number of atoms, molecules, and so forth.

    The number of entities composing a mole has been experimentally determined to be \(6.02214179 \times 10^{23}\), a fundamental constant named Avogadro’s number (\(N_A\)) or the Avogadro constant in honor of Italian scientist Amedeo Avogadro. This constant is properly reported with an explicit unit of “per mole,” a conveniently rounded version being \(6.022 \times 10^{23}/\ce{mol}\).

    Consistent with its definition as an amount unit, 1 mole of any element contains the same number of atoms as 1 mole of any other element. The masses of 1 mole of different elements, however, are different, since the masses of the individual atoms are drastically different. The molar mass of an element (or compound) is the mass in grams of 1 mole of that substance, a property expressed in units of grams per mole (g/mol) (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)).

    2.6: Molar Mass of Elements (1)

    Because the definitions of both the mole and the atomic mass unit are based on the same reference substance, 12C, the molar mass of any substance is numerically equivalent to its atomic or formula weight in amu. Per the amu definition, a single 12C atom weighs 12 amu (its atomic mass is 12 amu). According to the definition of the mole, 12 g of 12C contains 1 mole of 12C atoms (its molar mass is 12 g/mol). This relationship holds for all elements, since their atomic masses are measured relative to that of the amu-reference substance, 12C. Extending this principle, the molar mass of a compound in grams is likewise numerically equivalent to its formula mass in amu.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Mass of one mole of elements
    Element Average Atomic Mass (amu) Molar Mass (g/mol) Atoms/Mole
    C 12.01 12.01 \(6.022 \times 10^{23}\)
    H 1.008 1.008 \(6.022 \times 10^{23}\)
    O 16.00 16.00 \(6.022 \times 10^{23}\)
    Na 22.99 22.99 \(6.022 \times 10^{23}\)
    Cl 33.45 35.45 \(6.022 \times 10^{23}\)

    While atomic mass and molar mass are numerically equivalent, keep in mind that they are vastly different in terms of scale, as represented by the vast difference in the magnitudes of their respective units (amu versus g).

    The relationships between formula mass, the mole, and Avogadro’s number can be applied to compute various quantities that describe the composition of substances and compounds. For example, if we know the mass and chemical composition of a substance, we can determine the number of moles and calculate number of atoms or molecules in the sample. Likewise, if we know the number of moles of a substance, we can derive the number of atoms or molecules and calculate the substance’s mass.

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\): Deriving Moles from Grams for an Element

    According to nutritional guidelines from the US Department of Agriculture, the estimated average requirement for dietary potassium is 4.7 g. What is the estimated average requirement of potassium in moles?


    The mass of K is provided, and the corresponding amount of K in moles is requested. Referring to the periodic table, the atomic mass of K is 39.10 amu, and so its molar mass is 39.10 g/mol. The given mass of K (4.7 g) is a bit more than one-tenth the molar mass (39.10 g), so a reasonable “ballpark” estimate of the number of moles would be slightly greater than 0.1 mol.

    The molar amount of a substance may be calculated by dividing its mass (g) by its molar mass (g/mol):

    2.6: Molar Mass of Elements (2)

    The factor-label method supports this mathematical approach since the unit “g” cancels and the answer has units of “mol:”

    \[ \mathrm{4.7\; \cancel{g} K \left ( \dfrac{mol\; K}{39.10\;\cancel{g}}\right)=0.12\;mol\; K} \nonumber\]

    The calculated magnitude (0.12 mol K) is consistent with our ballpark expectation, since it is a bit greater than 0.1 mol.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\): Beryllium

    Beryllium is a light metal used to fabricate transparent X-ray windows for medical imaging instruments. How many moles of Be are in a thin-foil window weighing 3.24 g?


    0.360 mol

    Example \(\PageIndex{2}\): Deriving Grams from Moles for an Element

    A liter of air contains \(9.2 \times 10^{−4}\) mol argon. What is the mass of Ar in a liter of air?


    The molar amount of Ar is provided and must be used to derive the corresponding mass in grams. Since the amount of Ar is less than 1 mole, the mass will be less than the mass of 1 mole of Ar, approximately 40 g. The molar amount in question is approximately one-one thousandth (~10−3) of a mole, and so the corresponding mass should be roughly one-one thousandth of the molar mass (~0.04 g):

    2.6: Molar Mass of Elements (3)

    In this case, logic dictates (and the factor-label method supports) multiplying the provided amount (mol) by the molar mass (g/mol):

    \[\mathrm{9.2 \times10^{-4}\; \cancel{mol} \; Ar \left( \dfrac{39.95\;g}{\cancel{mol}\;Ar} \right)=0.037\;g\; Ar} \nonumber\]

    The result is in agreement with our expectations, around 0.04 g Ar.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    What is the mass of 2.561 mol of gold?


    504.4 g

    Example \(\PageIndex{3}\): Deriving Number of Atoms from Mass for an Element

    Copper is commonly used to fabricate electrical wire (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)). How many copper atoms are in 5.00 g of copper wire?

    2.6: Molar Mass of Elements (4)


    The number of Cu atoms in the wire may be conveniently derived from its mass by a two-step computation: first calculating the molar amount of Cu, and then using Avogadro’s number (NA) to convert this molar amount to number of Cu atoms:

    2.6: Molar Mass of Elements (5)

    Considering that the provided sample mass (5.00 g) is a little less than one-tenth the mass of 1 mole of Cu (~64 g), a reasonable estimate for the number of atoms in the sample would be on the order of one-tenth NA, or approximately 1022 Cu atoms. Carrying out the two-step computation yields:

    \[\mathrm{5.00\:\cancel{g}\:Cu\left(\dfrac{\cancel{mol}\:Cu}{63.55\:\cancel{g}}\right)\left(\dfrac{6.022\times10^{23}\:atoms}{\cancel{mol}}\right)=4.74\times10^{22}\:atoms\: of\: copper}\]

    The factor-label method yields the desired cancellation of units, and the computed result is on the order of 1022 as expected.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{3}\)

    A prospector panning for gold in a river collects 15.00 g of pure gold. How many Au atoms are in this quantity of gold?


    \(4.586 \times 10^{22}\; Au\) atoms


    The formula mass of a substance is the sum of the average atomic masses of each atom represented in the chemical formula and is expressed in atomic mass units. The formula mass of a covalent compound is also called the molecular mass. A convenient amount unit for expressing very large numbers of atoms or molecules is the mole. Experimental measurements have determined the number of entities composing 1 mole of substance to be 6.022 × 1023, a quantity called Avogadro’s number. The mass in grams of 1 mole of substance is its molar mass. Due to the use of the same reference substance in defining the atomic mass unit and the mole, the formula mass (amu) and molar mass (g/mol) for any substance are numerically equivalent (for example, one H2O molecule weighs approximately18 amu and 1 mole of H2O molecules weighs approximately 18 g).


    Avogadro’s number (NA)
    experimentally determined value of the number of entities comprising 1 mole of substance, equal to 6.022 × 1023 mol−1
    formula mass
    sum of the average masses for all atoms represented in a chemical formula; for covalent compounds, this is also the molecular mass
    amount of substance containing the same number of atoms, molecules, ions, or other entities as the number of atoms in exactly 12 grams of 12C
    molar mass
    mass in grams of 1 mole of a substance
    2.6: Molar Mass of Elements (2024)
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