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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Subatomic Particles

Though the word atom originally denoted a particle that cannot be cut into smaller particles, in modern scientific usage the atom is composed of various subatomic particles. The constituent particles of an atom are the electron, the proton and the neutron. However, the hydrogen-1 atom has no neutrons and a positive hydrogen ion has no electrons.

The electron is by far the least massive of these particles at 9.11×10−31 kg, with a negative electrical charge and a size that is too small to be measured using available techniques. Protons have a positive charge and a mass 1,836 times that of the electron, at 1.6726×10−27 kg, although this can be reduced by changes to the energy binding the proton into an atom. Neutrons have no electrical charge and have a free mass of 1,839 times the mass of electrons, or 1.6929×10−27 kg. Neutrons and protons have comparable dimensions—on the order of 2.5×10−15 m—although the 'surface' of these particles is not sharply defined.

In the Standard Model of physics, both protons and neutrons are composed of elementary particles called quarks. The quark belongs to the fermion group of particles, and is one of the two basic constituents of matter—the other being the lepton, of which the electron is an example. There are six types of quarks, each having a fractional electric charge of either +2⁄3 or −1⁄3. Protons are composed of two up quarks and one down quark, while a neutron consists of one up quark and two down quarks. This distinction accounts for the difference in mass and charge between the two particles. The quarks are held together by the strong nuclear force, which is mediated by gluons. The gluon is a member of the family of gauge bosons, which are elementary particles that mediate physical forces.

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