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mass number

mass number, often represented by the symbol A, the total number of nucleons (neutrons and protons) in the nucleus of an atom. All atoms of a chemical element have the same atomic number (number of protons in the nucleus) but may have different mass numbers (from having different numbers of neutrons in the nucleus). Atoms of an element with the same mass number make up an isotope of the element. Different isotopes of the same element cannot have the same mass number, but isotopes of different elements often do have the same mass number, e.g., carbon-14 (6 protons and 8 neutrons) and nitrogen-14 (7 protons and 7 neutrons).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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