Tuesday, 2 November 2010

It doesn’t really matter

Fact: All of us consist of 99.999999% of empty space

Some people love tinkering about with cars, others love to spend their time creating wonderful treats in the kitchen, whereas I have a fascination with the world of the infinitesimally tiny, in fact so tiny its invisible to everything but the most advanced microscopes. I have a profound interest in the sub atomic world, a world that, once you get to grips with, continues to blow you away with its sheer illogicality. This is a world which, if you want to step inside, you have to leave your everyday logic at the door. Here things are not what they seem, you enter an Alice wonderland in set up where things are not what they seem, a place where you can’t know both the position and speed of something at the same time, a place where things can be in two different place at once. And in this world the every day laws of physics break down. Its even possible for particles in this worked to be two different things at the same time. Talk about weirdness!

All matter, that is you, your computer, sofas and tennis balls, consist of millions upon millions of atoms. To give an idea of the size of one atom, it would take 10,000 million laid side to side to stretch from one side to the other of a full stop on this page! Each atom has in its middle a nucleus, which, is 100,000 times small than the complete atom. Spaced around each nucleus are clouds of electrons, these electrons whiz about at great speed, and are viewed more as clouds then object’s, it's also quite impossible to say with any certainty, where one of these electrons is at any one moment, all you can do is estimate its probable location. 
What gives all matter its sense of solidity is just the opposing attractions of elections and the nucleus. Elections possess a negative charge whilst neutrons, which reside into the atoms centre or nucleolus, possess a positive charge, these two opposing charges mean that the electron always keeps a certain distance from the nucleus, it were not so, and electrons fell into the nucleolus then what we see as solid master would not be possible, it would be easy to put your hand through the table, and you wouldn’t be able to stand on solid ground for instance.

Getting back to the opening fact, all matter does indeed consist of over 99% of empty space; the only mass to be found in an atom is that inside its nucleus. If all of the empty space could somehow be squeezed out of our bodies, then the entire population of the earth could be squeezed into the space occupied by a sugar cube! Now, isn’t that amazing?

I know that most people find physics are just too intimidating and boring to bother about.
And its true that to properly appreciate this weird and wonderful world does take a bit of time to grasp, yet the subject isn’t half as complicated inc e you grasp the basics. Well in that sense it isn’t that far removed from car mechanics or even cooking is it!

I haven’t even gone into the even weirder world of light wave/particles duality. That can wait for another time.

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