The Mole Concept

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This figure contains eight different substances displayed on white circles. The amount of each substance is visibly different.
Figure 1 Each sample contains 6.022 × 1023 atoms —1.00 mol of atoms. From left to right (top row): 65.4 g zinc, 12.0 g carbon, 24.3 g magnesium, and 63.5 g copper. From left to right (bottom row): 32.1 g sulfur, 28.1 g silicon, 207 g lead, and 118.7 g tin. (credit: modification of work by Mark Ott)

OpenStax Chemistry 2e

The identity of a substance is defined not only by the types of atoms or ions it contains, but by the quantity of each type of atom or ion. For example, water, H2O, and hydrogen peroxide, H2O2, are alike in that their respective molecules are composed of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. However, because a hydrogen peroxide molecule contains two oxygen atoms, as opposed to the water molecule, which has only one, the two substances exhibit very different properties. Today, sophisticated instruments allow the direct measurement of these defining microscopic traits; however, the same traits were originally derived from the measurement of macroscopic properties (the masses and volumes of bulk quantities of matter) using relatively simple tools (balances and volumetric glassware). This experimental approach required the introduction of a new unit for amount of substances, the mole, which remains indispensable in modern chemical science.

The mole is an amount unit similar to familiar units like pair, dozen, gross, etc. It provides a specific measure of the number of atoms or molecules in a sample of matter. One Latin connotation for the word “mole” is “large mass” or “bulk,” which is consistent with its use as the name for this unit. The mole provides a link between an easily measured macroscopic property, bulk mass, and an extremely important fundamental property, number of atoms, molecules, and so forth. A mole of substance is that amount in which there are 6.02214076 ×× 1023 discrete entities (atoms or molecules). This large number is a fundamental constant known as Avogadro’s number (NA) or the Avogadro constant in honor of Italian scientist Amedeo Avogadro. This constant is properly reported with an explicit unit of “per mole,” a conveniently rounded version being 6.022 ×× 1023/mol.

Consistent with its definition as an amount unit, 1 mole of any element contains the same number of atoms as 1 mole of any other element. The masses of 1 mole of different elements, however, are different, since the masses of the individual atoms are drastically different. The molar mass of an element (or compound) is the mass in grams of 1 mole of that substance, a property expressed in units of grams per mole (g/mol)(see Figure 1).

The molar mass of any substance is numerically equivalent to its atomic or formula weight in amu. Per the amu definition, a single 12C atom weighs 12 amu (its atomic mass is 12 amu). A mole of 12C weighs 12 g (its molar mass is 12 g/mol). This relationship holds for all elements, since their atomic masses are measured relative to that of the amu-reference substance, 12C. Extending this principle, the molar mass of a compound in grams is likewise numerically equivalent to its formula mass in amu (Figure 2).

This photo shows two vials filled with a colorless liquid. It also shows two bowls: one filled with an off-white powder and one filled with a bright red powder.
Figure 2  Each sample contains 6.02 × 1023 molecules or formula units—1.00 mol of the compound or element. Clock-wise from the upper left: 130.2 g of C8H17OH (1-octanol, formula mass 130.2 amu), 454.4 g of HgI2 (mercury(II) iodide, formula mass 454.4 amu), 32.0 g of CH3OH (methanol, formula mass 32.0 amu) and 256.5 g of S8 (sulfur, formula mass 256.5 amu). (credit: Sahar Atwa)
Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

While atomic mass and molar mass are numerically equivalent, keep in mind that they are vastly different in terms of scale, as represented by the vast difference in the magnitudes of their respective units (amu versus g). To appreciate the enormity of the mole, consider a small drop of water weighing about 0.03 g (see Figure 3). Although this represents just a tiny fraction of 1 mole of water (~18 g), it contains more water molecules than can be clearly imagined. If the molecules were distributed equally among the roughly seven billion people on earth, each person would receive more than 100 billion molecules.

A close-up photo of a water droplet on a leaf is shown. The water droplet is not perfectly spherical.
Figure 3. The number of molecules in a single droplet of water is roughly 100 billion times greater than the number of people on earth. (credit: “tanakawho”/Wikimedia commons)

The relationships between formula mass, the mole, and Avogadro’s number can be applied to compute various quantities that describe the composition of substances and compounds.


Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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