What is the difference between tungsten and tungsten carbide? You have undoubtedly seen the final product, your beautiful, shiny, scratch resistant tungsten carbide ring. But, the formation of those compounds that allow for the creation of your ring or piece of jewelry is dependent on tungsten’s atomic makeup.
We begin with an atom. There are three types of elements in an atom and they are called electron (negatively charged atom), proton (positively charged atom), and neutron (an atom with no charge). Imagine a group of protons and neutrons clumped together. This is called a nucleus. Orbiting the nucleus are electrons. Together, they form an atom.
At this point, you can combine atoms to create a molecule. Most substances that surround us are made up of molecules and are compounds of different elements. For example, water is a compound of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O). The naming convention for a compound with only two elements ends with the syllable “ide”. For example, oxygen and carbon combine to create carbon dioxide.
The tungsten atom consists of seventy-four protons, seventy-four neutrons and varying number of neutrons. There are five stable isotopes (different versions of its atom) that contain 106, 108, 109, 110 and 112 neutrons. Averaging the amount of neutrons in the stable tungsten isotopes (106 + 108 + 109 + 110 + 112 / 5) gives tungsten an average amount neutron amount of 109. Adding the neutrons plus the protons (74) generates the tungsten atom’s atomic mass of 183.
The manner in which the tungsten atom forms compounds with other elements is dictated by its outer electron shells. The tungsten atom consists of six electron shells. The first four shells are “full” – meaning, they do not have any room to “share” electrons with another element. The inner shell consists of 2 electrons. There are 8 in the second shell. The third shell contains 18, whereas the fourth shell has 32 electrons. The last two shells, which are the ones that form compounds with other elements contain 12 (fifth shell) and 2 (the sixth or outer shell).
Because the last two shells have room for more electrons, they will form chemical bonds with other elements, such as carbon. By combining both tungsten and carbon, we end up with a compound known as tungsten carbide that is found in the tungsten wedding bands and other tungsten jewelry that are becoming increasingly popular.