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For the Public - High Energy Physics Tour

Atomic Theory

We now know that atoms are the smallest pieces of matter that can take place in chemical reactions to build all the molecules that make up everything we see in everyday life. In school, most likely you have been taught that atoms are made of smaller pieces of matter called electrons, protons and neutrons. While that is true, you may not have been taught that there are still smaller pieces of matter that make up the protons and neutrons: these smaller pieces are known as quarks.

The notion that all objects are made of smaller pieces is not new. The ancient Greeks proposed that matter is made of "indivisible" pieces called atomos. But that idea was essentially ignored for centuries. It was not until the science of chemistry developed that scientists learned there were individual types of matter that are called elements, and that these elements had predictable and repetitive chemical properties. Over the last 200 years over 110 elements have been discovered, and they have been organized in the well-known periodic table that is taught in all high school chemistry classes.

While studies of atomic behavior occur in chemistry, many people do not realize that physics also takes a look at atoms and tries to figure out how and why they are able to behave the way they do. In order to do this, the forces that exist in and between atoms are studied in detail. And the scientists at Fermilab go to the next level: they try to determine what the atoms are made of and how the forces in the atom come into existence in the first place!

Special Relativity >

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