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Atomic Physics explained fast

Atomic Physics explained fast

After over a century of hard work physicists have established some impressive facts about atoms.

If you could make yourself amazingly small and walk up to an atom the first thing you see would be a cloud of electrons whizzing at great speed, so they look like a blur. The electron was the first elementary particle to be discovered and it's still as elementary as ever. Elementary means no internal structure has been detected.

You plow through the cloud of electrons and finally come to a peaceful empty space. You travel this for ages and then on the horizon you see a small object. This is the nucleus of the atom. As you get closer you see that it has structure. It consists of two type of particles - protons and neutrons - bound together very tightly.

The number of protons in the nucleus is exactly equal to the number of electrons you passed in the outer cloud, but the number of neutrons can vary. Protons have one unit of electrical charge, but neutrons have none, they are neutral.

For a while physicists thought protons and neutrons were elementary, but not so. It turns out they are complex objects with internal structure. So physicists built particle colliders to learn more about the structure of the proton. The most famous is the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at CERN in Geneva. The technique is simple, smash two protons together an incredible speed and see what comes out. From this physicists can deduce what's inside the proton.

It seems a lot is going on inside the proton. It's built from more elementary particles called quarks, bound together by an incredibly strong force field generated by particles called gluons.

Given than the proton is amazingly small why would nature give it such complex internal structure?

That's a philosophical question physicists can't answer. But they are working hard to document the internal structure of the proton.

Content written and posted by Ken Abbott