What is a subatomic particle?

Science 2023

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What is a subatomic particle?
What is a subatomic particle?

Particles that make up atoms can be imagined in different ways - for example, in the form of round dust particles. They are so small that each such grain of dust cannot be considered separately. All matter that is in the surrounding world consists of such particles. What are the particles that make up atoms?

subatomic particle


A subatomic particle is one of those "bricks" from which the entire world is built. These particles include protons and neutrons, which are part of atomic nuclei. Electrons revolving around nuclei also belong to this category. In other words, subatomic particles in physics are protons, neutrons and electrons. In the world familiar to man, as a rule, particles of another kind are not found - they live unusually short. When their age ends, they decay into ordinary particles.

The number of those subatomic particles that live relatively short, today is in the hundreds. Their number is so great that scientists no longer use the usual names for them. Like stars, they are often assigned numeric and alphabetic designations.

atom subatomic particles

Key Features

Spin, electric charge, and mass are among the most important characteristics of any subatomic particle. Since the weight of a particle is often associated with mass, some of the particles are traditionally called "heavy". Einstein's equation (E=mc2) indicates that the mass of a subatomic particle directly depends on its energy and speed. As for the electric charge, it is always a multiple of the fundamental unit. For example, if the charge of a proton is +1, then the charge of an electron is -1. However, some of the subatomic particles, such as the photon or neutrino, have no electrical charge at all.

Also, an important characteristic is the lifetime of the particle. More recently, scientists have been confident that electrons, photons, as well as neutrinos and protons are perfectly stable, and their lifetime is almost infinite. However, this is not quite true. The neutron, for example, remains stable only until it is "liberated" from the nucleus of an atom. After that, its lifetime is on average 15 minutes. All unstable particles undergo a quantum decay process that can never be completely predictable.

subatomic particle proton

Particle Research

The atom was considered indivisible until its structure was discovered. About a century ago, Rutherford made his famous experiments, which consisted in bombarding a thin sheet with a stream of alpha particles. It turned out that the atoms of matter are practically empty. And in the center of the atom is all that we call the nucleus of the atom - itabout a thousand times smaller than the atom itself. At that time, scientists believed that the atom consisted of two types of particles - the nucleus and electrons.

Over time, scientists have a question: why do the proton, electron and positron stick together and do not disintegrate in different directions under the influence of Coulomb forces? And also for the scientists of that time it remained unclear: if these particles are elementary, then nothing can happen to them, and they must live forever.

With the development of quantum physics, researchers have found that the neutron is subject to decay, and at the same time quite fast. It decays into a proton, an electron, and something else that could not be caught. The latter was noticed by the lack of energy. Then scientists assumed that the list of elementary particles was exhausted, but now it is known that this is far from the case. A new particle called the neutrino has been discovered. It carries no electrical charge and has an extremely low mass.

subatomic particle neutron


Neutron is a subatomic particle that has a neutral electric charge. Its mass is almost 2,000 times the mass of an electron. Since neutrons belong to the class of neutral particles, they interact directly with the nuclei of atoms, and not with their electron shells. Neutrons also have a magnetic moment that allows scientists to explore the microscopic magnetic structure of matter. Neutron radiation is harmless even to biological organisms.

Subatomic particle – proton

Scientists have found that theseThe "bricks of matter" are made up of three quarks. The proton is a positively charged particle. The mass of the proton exceeds the mass of the electron by 1836 times. One proton and one electron combine to form the simplest chemical element, the hydrogen atom. Until recently, it was believed that protons could not change their radius depending on which electrons orbited above them. A proton is an electrically charged particle. Connecting with an electron, it turns into a neutron.


The electron was first discovered by the English physicist J. Thomson in 1897. This particle, as scientists now believe, is an elementary or point object. This is the name of a subatomic particle in an atom, which does not have its own structure - does not consist of any other, smaller components. In union with a proton and a neutron, an electron forms an atom. Now scientists have not yet figured out what this particle consists of. An electron is a particle that has an infinitesimal electric charge. The very word "electron" in translation from ancient Greek means "amber" - after all, scientists of Hellas used amber to investigate the phenomena of electricity. This term was proposed by the British physicist in 1894, J. Stoney.

subatomic particle in physics

Why study elementary particles?

The simplest answer to the question of why scientists need to know about subatomic particles is: to have information about the internal structure of the atom. However, this statement contains only a grain of truth. ATIn fact, scientists study not just the internal structure of the atom - the main field of their research is the collision of the smallest particles of matter. When these extremely energetic particles collide with each other at high speeds, a new world is literally born, and the fragments of matter left after the collisions help unravel the mysteries of nature that have always remained a mystery to scientists.

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