atomic number, often represented by the symbol Z, the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom, as well as the number of electrons in the neutral atom. Atoms with the same atomic number make up a chemical element. Atomic numbers were first assigned to the elements c.1913 by H. G. J. Moseley; he arranged the elements in an order based on certain characteristics of their X-ray spectra and then numbered them accordingly. The elements are now arranged in the periodic table in the order of their atomic numbers. Mendeleev's periodic law was originally based on atomic weights. See mass number.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.