The Atom

Written by on June 24, 2010 in Good Fact Series with 0 Comments

A few centuries ago it was thought that the atom was an indivisible unit of nature but for the past hundred years we know that there is more.

Atoms make up everything there is, and regardless of how well you think you can imagine their size, you can’t. They are just too small. For instance a grain of salt contains 1.2 quintillion atoms or 1,200,000,000,000,000,000 (half of which are sodium and the other half chlorine). That’s a lot. In fact that is several million times the amount of stars in our own galaxy.

But just as atoms are numerous, they are also quite unsubstantial. It is fascinating to know that the atom is mostly empty space. In fact, it is 99.99 percent empty space with all of its mass centralized in the very tiny nucleus. If the nucleus were the size of one pixel in your monitor the entire atom would be larger than your house, perhaps even twice as large. (based on an atom of hydrogen)

The only reason we can see and touch things in our world is because of the electrical properties of atoms. Visible light for instance has a wavelength that is long enough to reflect off our atoms’ combined electrical field. This allows us to see. This reflected light makes things appear solid.

And the next time you’re out walking along the beach in your bare feet consider that your atoms don’t actually touch the sand but rather repel away from the electrical properties of the sand grains. This is the electromagnetic force and it is what holds your feet away from the sand at a distance of 1 angstrom, or 0.1 nanometers. Yes I know, another fantastically unperceivable number.

All in all, it is the electrical fields of atoms that give different material there intrinsic physical properties, that is why it is easier to dive into water than it is to dive into concrete.

I hope you have enjoyed this little trip into the other side of the universe.

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