o The Frog Blog: Science Fact of the Week 16 - Atoms are Tiny

Monday, 20 April 2009

Science Fact of the Week 16 - Atoms are Tiny

I want to mess with your mind for a bit and introduce you to the wonderful world atoms. Firstly, they are very small, one tiny particle of dust contains millions of atoms. One centimetre cubed of air (about the size of a sugar cube) contains approximately 45 billion billion atoms. Typically, an atom would have a width of one ten-millionth of a millimetre. Now that is small. Secondly, they are extremely abundant - there are lots of them. Well, think about it. If there are 45 billion billion in one cubic centimetre of air and, let's face it, there is a lot of air about, then it's safe to say there are a lot of atoms around. Atoms are everywhere. Look around you. Everything, absolutely everything, is made up of atoms.

But, now let's think of what atoms are made of. We all know, or at least should know, that atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons and neutrons are found in the nucleus of the atom, while electrons (for simplicity's sake) orbit the nucleus. Protons are themselves incredibly small. If you were to print out this page, the ink needed to print the previous full stop would contain approximately 500,000,000,000 of them. They are found in the nucleus of the atom, along with the atom's neutrons. The nucleus contains almost 100% of the mass of the atom, but is only one millionth of a billionth of the volume of the atom. Electrons, by the way, are even smaller than protons - 1,870 times lighter in fact!

But, I'll leave you with some more mind grabbing facts. Protons, neutrons and electrons are themselves made of even more unimaginably smaller particles. Protons and neutrons are made of particles called quarks and gluons, while particles called leptons form electrons and neutrinos (see John Updike's poem published previously on the Frog Blog). Other tiny particles include photons, which carry light energy.

Yes atoms are tiny, but are huge in comparison to some of the particles that are used to build them!

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