Simply Quantum Physics
Quantum physics describes the way the universe behaves on the very smallest scales. Far below the limits of even the most powerful microscopes, it governs the behaviors and interactions of atoms and the particles from which they are made—the fundamental building blocks of matter. Scientists only confirmed the existence of subatomic particles with J.J. Thomson’s discovery of the electron
in 1897, but the possibility that these tiny particles can sometimes behave like waves, which is key to the strange behavior of the quantum world, was only suggested by Louis Victor de Broglie in 1924.
While the largest atoms have a diameter of about half a nanometer (billionth of a meter)—less than 1/100,000 th the width of a human hair—most of their volume is a sparse cloud filled with electrons around a dense central nucleus. Diameters of atomic nuclei are typically a few femtometers (million billionths of a meter), and it is usually at around these scales (and even smaller ones) that strange quantum behaviors become apparent. The smallest distance that makes physical sense is a Planck unit of length (see pp.140–41).
THREE TINY PIECES
Atoms are the fundamental building blocks of large-scale matter—particles that were first thought indivisible and whose collective chemical and physical properties make them representative of one or another specific element. On a deeper level, however, all atoms are made up of a combination of three subatomic particles: positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons in a central nucleus, and negatively charged electrons orbiting in more distant clouds (see p.31), which allow atoms to bond with other atoms.
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