We’ve teamed up v the persons behind BBC people Service’s CrowdScience come answer your concerns on one object - this week it"s all about the the smallest particle.

You are watching: The smallest part of an element


The old Greeks had actually a name for the smallest particle: the ‘atom’, meaning ‘not cuttable’. Yet ever because Ernest Rutherford famously split the atom in experiment at Cambridge University approximately a century ago, it’s to be clear that the name is a misnomer. He uncovered that atom contain a central nucleus around 10,000 times smaller than the atom itself.


By the at an early stage 1960s, researcher firing electrons at atoms were finding ideas that also the protons and also neutrons making up atomic nuclei contain some sort of structure – now well-known to be quarks – trapped inside them. In the last few years, experiments at the large Hadron Collider bit accelerator have said that quarks might themselves it is in at least 10,000 times smaller sized than protons and also neutrons.

But there’s one subatomic bit that’s much smaller still, and not even the most powerful particle accelerator has actually come close come pinning under its size: the electron.


Physics textbooks sometimes cite the so-called ‘classical radius the the electron’, i m sorry – at around three-million-billionths the a metre – is similar to the of a proton. But this originates from a theory that suspect the electron is simply a ball of electromagnetic energy, i beg your pardon isn’t really true.


A an ext reliable understanding into that true size originates from using quantum theory, which ties the dimension of subatomic particles to your angular momentum (‘spin’) and their magnetic properties. In the instance of the electron, dimensions of these properties indicate that the electron is at the very least 1,000 times smaller even than quarks.

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