How Small Is An Atom - Spoiler - Very Small

The atoms are ridiculously and incredibly small a single human hair is as thick as 500,000 carbon atoms stacked on top of each other. Look at your fist, it contains trillions and trillions of atoms If an atom was as big as a ball, how big would your fist be? ... about the size of the Earth. Is it always so hard to imagine? Let's try something different. Look at your little finger and imagine that it is as big as the room you are in Now fill the room with grains of rice. A grain represents a cell on your finger. Let's zoom in on a grain of rice, and now this cell is the size of the room you're in. Let’s fill it with rice again, it’s the size of a protein. And now let's fill the spaces between the rice with grains of fine sand. It's about the size of an atom.

Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

What is an atom made of? 

Let's pretend that an atom looks like this for a minute, to facilitate understanding. An atom consists of 3 elementary particles: neutrons, protons and electrons Protons and neutrons are bonded and form the nucleus of the atom, they are linked together by the strong interaction, one of the four fundamental forces of the universe. They are made of quarks and linked together by gluons. No one knows the exact size of a quark. We think they can literally be points, like in geometry try to imagine them as being in zero dimensions.

We suspect that quarks and electrons are the most basic components of matter in the universe. Electrons orbit the nucleus at a speed of 2200km / s they are fast enough to go around the world in 18 seconds. Like quarks, we believe that electrons are fundamental particles. 99, 999 999 999 999% of an atom is just a vacuum. Except it isn't. What we perceive as empty, is actually a space filled with quantum fluctuations fields that have potential energy, appear and disappear spontaneously These fluctuations have a fundamental impact on how particles interact But we’ll cover it in a next post .

How much space does the nucleus and the electrons actually occupy? 

If we removed the space between the atomic nuclei of the Empire State Building it would be as big as a grain of rice. All the atoms of humanity would fit in a teaspoon There are extreme objects where these states exist, in a neutron star, the nuclei are compressed so densely that the mass of three suns would fit into an object only a few kilometers wide.

In fact, what does an atom look like? 

Well ... about that Electrons are like a wave function and a particle at the same time we can calculate where an electron could be at any given time These probability clouds, called orbital, are where the electrons can be with 95% safety the further one moves away from the nucleus, the more the probability of finding an electron approaches 0 but it's never really zero which means that in theory, the electron of an atom can be at the other end of the universe.

Okay wait a second, the weird thing that makes up all the matter in the universe, for dozens of known elements, do not need dozens of elementary particles. In fact. Just three. Take a proton and an electron, and you have hydrogen, a proton and a neutron, and you have helium some more, you have carbon, even more, fluorine, always more, gold, etc ... And all the atoms of an element are the same All the hydrogen atoms in the universe for example, are the same the hydrogen in your body is exactly the same as that in the Sun.

Do you feel confused now? 

We certainly are! Nothing in this universe scale makes sense in our world and we haven't even started to talk about quantum mechanics or the even more bizarre particle zoo The atom model has changed a lot since its first conception and the current model will certainly not be the last So let's help research and scientists and wait for the next wave of breathtaking new information about this strange world that is the basis of our existence

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