All matter is made up of countless tiny particles whizzing around. These particles are extremely dense; matter is mostly empty space. Matter seems continuous because the particles are so small, and they move incredibly fast.

Each chemical element has its own unique type of particle, known as its atom. Atoms of different elements are always different. The slightest change in an atom can make a tremendous difference in its behavior. You can live by breathing pure oxygen, but you can’t live off of pure nitrogen. Oxygen will cause metal to corrode, but nitrogen will not. Wood will burn furiously in an atmosphere of pure oxygen, but will not even ignite in pure nitrogen. Yet both are gases at room temperature and pressure; both are colorless, both are odorless, and both are just about of equal weight. These substances are so different because oxygen has eight protons, while nitrogen has only seven. There are many other examples in nature where a tiny change in atomic structure makes a major difference in the way a substance behaves.