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Elements are made up of quarks, right? and physicists have smashed atoms into one another to get quarks, right?

Then if the first two statements are true then elements can be broken down into simpler substances.

If I am right, then can someone give me a better definition?

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  • $\begingroup$ Elements can't be broken down chemically. Yes in a nuclear reaction they can. The breaking down of elements is what gives a nuclear bomb its BOOM! $\endgroup$ – MaxW May 2 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ If quarks existed independently then what you say might be true. But they don't. We can infer that nuclei are made of quarks by smashing things together and observing the mess that creates, but we don't ever get an isolated, simpler substance that we can separate into something simpler than elemental nuclei. Under normal lab conditions the normal chemical definition of elements holds. $\endgroup$ – matt_black May 2 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ The atoms of chemical elements cannot be broken down by chemical reaction. You have simply shortened your definition of an "element* to the point where it breaks, if taken out of the chemical context. $\endgroup$ – Karl May 2 at 18:38
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What definition, where? The short answer is given in the IUPAC Gold Book:

chemical element

  1. A species of atoms; all atoms with the same number of protons in the atomic nucleus.
  2. A pure chemical substance composed of atoms with the same number of protons in the atomic nucleus. Sometimes this concept is called the elementary substance as distinct from the chemical element as defined under 1, but mostly the term chemical element is used for both concepts.

A longer answer is: Yes, physicists have managed to split atoms further down than to nuclei and electrons. It is also possible to "transmute" an element into another, such as creating Plutonium from Uranium. This involves a lot of machinery and energy, whereas splitting a substance into its constituent elements can be as simple as heating or dissolving in an acid and could be done in an afternoon with a few glass beakers.

Looking at it from a more theoretical perspective, one can (snarkily) define Chemistry as "the Physics concerned with the outer electron shell". Once you work on other areas of the atom (that is, the nucleus) or an electron shell of an atom can no longer be reasonably defined (plasma as in the sun), you tend to leave the area of chemistry (and the applicability of the term "element").

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  • $\begingroup$ I really like your definition of chemistry: the physics concerned with the outer electron shell! Is it your own invention or someone else said it (just for quoting purposes)? $\endgroup$ – M. Farooq May 2 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ @M.Farooq A guy I went to high school with and whose name I can't remember said that about my choice of university studies. Like I said, snarky. $\endgroup$ – TAR86 May 2 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ All science is either physics or stamp-collecting. ;-) $\endgroup$ – Karl May 2 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ While there's a lot of truth in defining chemistry that way it does miss quite a few things - chemical thermodynamics, NMR and Mossbauer, and various core level involving spectroscopic techniques (e.g. EXAFS) are the ones that come immediately to mind $\endgroup$ – Ian Bush May 3 at 7:02

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