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The Fascinating World of Subatomic Particles: 7 Things You Need to Know

Updated: May 4, 2023

Welcome to the intriguing world of subatomic particles! These tiny entities are the fundamental building blocks of matter that make up atoms, and they play a crucial role in our understanding of the physical universe.

From protons and neutrons to electrons and beyond, subatomic particles have captivated scientists for over a century with their unique properties and behaviours.

This article will explore seven key things you need to know about subatomic particles: their types, discovery, properties, role in atoms, and applications in various fields.

Join us on this fascinating journey as we delve into the mysteries of the subatomic realm and uncover the incredible impact of these tiny particles in our world.

  1. Subatomic particles are the fundamental building blocks of matter that make up atoms. They are the smallest entities that exist within atoms and include particles such as protons, neutrons, and electrons. These particles are incredibly tiny, with sizes ranging from less than a billionth of a meter to even smaller dimensions.

  2. There are three main types of subatomic particles: protons, neutrons, and electrons. Protons carry a positive charge and are located in the nucleus of an atom. Neutrons are neutral particles that also reside in the nucleus, and electrons are negatively charged particles that orbit the nucleus in electron shells.

  3. The existence of subatomic particles was first theorized by scientists such as J.J. Thomson, who discovered the electron in 1897, and Ernest Rutherford, who proposed the concept of the nucleus and the proton in 1911. Later, James Chadwick discovered the neutron in 1932. These discoveries revolutionized our understanding of the atomic structure and led to the development of the field of quantum mechanics.

  4. Subatomic particles have unique properties that govern their behaviour. Protons are positively charged, neutrons are neutrally charged, and electrons are negatively charged. Protons and neutrons have masses approximately 1,800 times greater than electrons, and they are responsible for most of the mass of an atom. Electrons, conversely, have negligible mass but play a crucial role in chemical reactions and the behaviour of atoms in electric and magnetic fields.

  5. Subatomic particles are essential for the stability and behaviour of atoms. Protons and neutrons are located in the nucleus, which is the central part of an atom, and they contribute to the mass and stability of the atom. Electrons, conversely, occupy discrete energy levels or electron shells around the nucleus and determine the chemical properties and reactivity of atoms. The arrangement and movement of electrons in these shells give rise to various chemical bonding and molecular interactions.

  6. The study of subatomic particles is a significant area of research in the field of particle physics. Particle physicists use powerful accelerators and detectors to study the properties and interactions of subatomic particles in high-energy experiments. These studies have led to the discovery of numerous subatomic particles beyond the classic proton, neutron, and electron, such as quarks, leptons, and bosons, which are the building blocks of the standard model of particle physics.

  7. The knowledge of subatomic particles has practical applications in various fields. For example, in medicine, positron emission tomography (PET) scans use positrons, which are positively charged electrons, to image the human body and detect diseases like cancer. For industrial and scientific purposes, subatomic particles are also used in technologies like nuclear power generation, radiation therapy, and particle accelerators.

In conclusion, subatomic particles are the foundational units of matter that make up atoms and play a vital role in our understanding of the physical world.

They have unique properties and behaviours that are studied in fields such as quantum mechanics and particle physics. The discovery and understanding of subatomic particles have revolutionized our understanding of the universe and have practical applications in various fields.

Despite their incredibly small size, subatomic particles continue to captivate scientists and researchers as we unlock more mysteries of the subatomic realm.


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Recommended Reading (or listening): Atomic Habits by James Clear