Yesterday we gave a brief and simplified discussion of the electron, a particle which was speculated before the birth of Christ and discovered in 1897.The other fundamental particle in the cosmos is the proton. The date of discovery of the proton is 1919, and Ernest Rutherford gave the proton its name in 1920. Proton is the Greek word for first, and that name describes the fact that when it comes to understanding the elements in the creation, we begin with a proton starting point.
Along with neutrons, protons are called nucleons because they are present in the nucleus of the atom. Hydrogen contains one proton, and science believes it is the starting point for all of the chemical elements. The proton has a rest mass of 1.6726219 x 10-27 Kgs, which is about 1836 times the mass of an electron. Protons are incredibly stable and carry a positive charge. By contrast, neutrons will decay, producing a proton and an electron (beta particle).
In the periodic chart, the atomic number of each element is the number of protons in the nucleus. Neutrons also exist in the nucleus, but it is the proton that determines what the element is. In the laboratory, we can produce heavier elements by fusing protons, which are essentially naked hydrogen atoms. Scientists believe that the heavier elements in the creation have been produced in the cores of giant stars using a proton starting point.
Science is now dissecting the proton to understand how it was created. We have learned that particles called quarks are the building blocks of protons. Two up quarks and a down quark make up the proton. We are beginning to understand electrical charges, but how a positive charge is produced is still under study.
The message of the proton and electron is the amazing complexity of creating the stuff of which everything is made. Everywhere we look, we see a wonder working-hand has gone before. It has taken science many centuries to begin to understand the basics of the beginning of creation. For most of us, all we need to know is, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” There may have been a proton starting point for the beginning of the chemistry of the physical world, but it is evident that much took place to produce that beginning.
Everyone has heard of something called an electron. As a science teacher, it always interested me to see how little my students understood about what electrons are, what they do, and how electrons affect our lives.
The story of the electron started early in human history when the ancient Greeks found that if they rubbed fur on amber, the amber attracted things. It wasn’t until the 1800s that people began to understand the electron as we know it today. It was only in 1897 that J.J. Thompson discovered the particle itself.
The design of the electron is amazing. Science is just beginning to understand what charge is, but it is easy to show that there are two kinds of charges. They are negative and positive, and when they are combined, they neutralize each other. The electron carries a negative charge. (The proton has a positive charge and has about 1836 times the mass of an electron, but we will look at protons tomorrow.)
The electron has spin properties and behaves like a tiny magnet due to the spin. In atoms, electrons are paired so that the north pole of one electron is matched with the south pole of another electron. This allows the reactions we know about in chemistry. When an electron is accelerated, it radiates or absorbs energy, depending on whether it is speeding up or slowing down. These factors are the basis of much of our modern world of technology and are the reason electrons affect our lives so much today.
Beta particles can be released in nuclear reactions. Beta particles can be either electrons or antielectrons known as positrons. If an electron beta particle collides with a positive antielectron beta particle, they annihilate each other. The result produces gamma rays – a high energy form of light.
Science is still trying to understand how these particles are created. We are beginning to understand what causes charge, but the answer to the origin questions is what the field of quantum mechanics is about. The normal laws of the physical world have to be discarded, and new rules understood to investigate the tiny world of nuclear physics. It is an exciting time to be alive as science opens up new horizons, and electrons affect our lives in new ways.
All of this reminds us of the intelligence and creative genius of God. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:3).
Why does matter exist? That may sound like a silly question, but as we study nuclear reactions, it becomes crucial. Nuclear reactions produce two kinds of matter—matter and antimatter. The strange thing about these two forms of matter is that when they collide, they destroy each other, producing nothing but energy.
In the past 50 years, scientists have found that every kind of matter seems to have an antimatter equivalent. Science has discovered that electrons, which are well understood, have antimatter particles called anti-electrons or positrons. We now have ways of producing beams of positrons that physicists use in all kinds of experiments. Einstein’s famous equation, e = mc^2 can be verified when we collide positrons and electrons.
Research has led to the discovery of antiprotons, antineutrons, antineutrinos, antimuons, etc. If nuclear processes were involved in the creation of the universe, the cosmos should be full of the same amount of antimatter as there is matter. Could there be antiplanets, antistars, antigalaxies, etc.? One can even postulate antipeople. You could create the ultimate soap opera where a matter boy falls in love with an antimatter girl. The problem is that he can’t touch her, because if he does, their physical particles will all destroy each other in a huge thermonuclear explosion that would wipe out the planet.
That fictitious fable can’t happen, but it raises an important point. If all nuclear reactions produce equal amounts of matter and antimatter, shouldn’t all the matter and antimatter eventually collide and produce nothing but energy. Why does matter exist?
Science News (December 21, 2019, / January 4, 2020) reported on proof that antineutrinos and neutrinos violate parity. The oscillation of the two kinds of neutrinos is not the same. Neutrinos vibrate more rapidly than the mathematical predictions of what their frequency should be, and antineutrinos vibrate more slowly. Scientists don’t understand why these oscillations are different since they violate parity. The design of the building blocks of matter involves differences in oscillation frequencies, and that allows matter to exist.
Why does matter exist? We could state that with the old philosophical question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” Those questions seem to be answered at least in part by our new understanding of matter and antimatter. A major point we need to make is that matter and antimatter start with an energy source. That energy source must be external to our dimension. When we consider the intricate design features, that source would seem to be God.
Gravity controls the universe — at least on a large scale. Obviously, gravity keeps you and your possessions from floating away into space. Gravity also holds planets and stars together. It holds the Moon in orbit around the Earth and all of the planets in orbit around the Sun. Gravity holds the galaxies together. But other forces are stronger than gravity.
Four interactions make the universe work: the weak and strong nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravity. Gravity is by far the weakest of those forces. The weak and strong nuclear forces are limited to a very short range within the atom. Only the electromagnetic force and gravity reach out to the vast universe. Since the electromagnetic force is so much stronger than gravity, why does gravity control the universe?
Everything is made of atoms and atoms contain electrons and protons. Electrons have a negative charge, and protons have an equal and opposite positive charge. Electromagnetism causes opposite charges to attract and like charges to repel each other. Gravity, of course, pulls anything with mass together.
The reason electromagnetism does not overpower the much weaker force of gravity is a delicate balance between electrons and protons. For each electron in the universe, there is a proton, so the plus and minus electrical forces cancel each other, creating electrical neutrality. Without that balance, we could not exist.
The balance between electrons and protons is so delicate that if you were building a universe and accidentally put in one extra electron for each trillion trillion trillion electron/proton pairs (that’s one followed by 36 zeroes), it would be catastrophic. The electrical repulsion between those negatively-charged electrons would overpower the gravitational force. The result would be that gravity could not pull any mass together. If gravity could not pull masses together, there would be no planets, no stars, no galaxies. Electromagnetic repulsion would create a universe of dispersed particles and nothing else.
We are amazed to realize that everything in the world around us is made up of fewer than 100 different chemical elements. Those elements are combined to form vast numbers of different compounds, and those compounds come together to make up everything including air, soil, plants, and our bodies.
Even more amazing is that those chemical elements are all made up of the same three particles called protons, electrons, and neutrons. The only difference between the elements is the quantity of each of the particles in their atoms. The periodic table gives an organized way to look at the elements based on the number of protons in the nucleus of each atom. It shows all of the natural elements plus more than 20 others that have been created in laboratories with particle accelerators–machines that smash atoms together.
The natural chemical elements range from hydrogen with only one proton to uranium which has 92. The periodic table, first conceived in the nineteenth century, shows which elements react similarly with other elements to form chemical compounds. The ability of the various elements to combine with other element makes possible every compound which makes up every substance on Earth.
Each atom of each element has protons in the center called a nucleus and electrons surrounding the nucleus in “shells.” The atoms of some elements also have neutrons in the nucleus. The strong interaction in the nucleus binds the protons and neutrons together. At the same time, the electrical or Coulomb force causes the protons to repel each other. As the number of protons approaches 100 or more, the repelling force overcomes the attracting force, and the atom becomes unstable. For that reason, the larger atoms only exist in the laboratory and only for very short times.
If you could add the mass of all of the protons, neutrons, and electrons in an atom, you would find that the total mass is more than the mass of the atom itself. That extra mass is found in the energy that binds the nucleus together. Einstein’s famous equation E=mc^2 indicates that matter and energy are different forms of the same thing. In other words, the extra mass has become the energy that binds the nucleus together.