What Are Atoms?
Describes atoms and their sub-particles like the neutron, proton and the electron.
All matter in the universe is composed of elements. An element is something that is made up of only one kind of material. For example, pure gold is an element. If you attempt to analyze pure gold, you will only find gold. Steel, on the other hand is not an element. If we analyze steel, we will find that it is a mixture of iron, carbon and other materials. Thus we say steel is a compound – a mixture of one or more elements.
Now what happens if we were to take an ounce of gold and break it into ever-smaller quantities? We will, of course, have an ever-smaller amounts of gold. If we continue this experiment however, a point will be reached where to break it down any further, the resulting quantity or amount will no longer be gold. When that happens, we say we have just broken down the atom. The atom is thus the smallest particle of an element that retains all the properties of its larger portions. Breaking an element beyond this atomic particle will result in the particle losing some or all of its original properties. Thus if we were to break the gold atom, the result would be anything but gold. The gold atom is thus the smallest amount or quantity of gold that could possibly exist. Atoms are of course very microscopic. Atoms are so small that millions of them will fit into an area the size of the period at the end of this sentence.
What then will we get when we break down the atom? The atom will be split into its constituents. The atom itself is made up of smaller particles. Two of these sub-particles, the neutron and proton, form a center called the nucleus. Around the nucleus revolves even smaller sub-particles called electrons. Electrons thus orbit the nucleus much like the planets orbit around the sun.
The breaking of the atom was one of the most significant achievements of man. When an atom is broken down, immense amount of energy is released. This energy can be put to good use like generating electricity or it can be used to build nuclear warheads that threaten annihilation of all life on this planet.
And what happens if even these sub-atomic particles are broken down? Well, the answer should come as no surprise that we would get even smaller sub-atomic particles. Does this particle in a particle situation ever have an end? Scientists are looking for the answer. When we find the smallest of all particles we will then have the every basic building block of all nature. Studying this smallest of all particles, scientist believe, will give us the power to understand all events in the universe. It might even allow us to predict the future!