Zooming down the Rabbit Hole

Zooming down the Rabbit Hole

 The scientists took the challenge that they had given the mystics very seriously. “How do we explain existence?” they huddled together and whispered amongst themselves. Someone suggested, “Maybe if we zoomed down to the smallest particle of matter, then it would become simple to then multiply the singular-most particle of nature by itself to explain the construction of the Universe. This building block could explain the Theory of Everything. Voila!” Everyone nodded their heads, smiled at each other and got down to work.

So, a group of scientists took different mixtures – a bowl of vegetable tossed salad, a glass of salt water, a mixed bag of sweets and started dismantling it to drill down to its smallest part. The salad, salt water and sweets are substances made by combining two or more different materials in such a way that no chemical reaction occurs, and can be separated easily. For example, once the salt and water were separated, they became two molecules – water (H2O) and Salt (NaCl).

Each of these molecules was made up of atoms. Hydrogen and oxygen atoms chemically bonded to make water molecule while sodium and chlorine atoms chemically joined to make salt molecule. These bonds are formed as a result of the sharing or exchange of electrons among atoms and this sharing create stability while shedding or acquiring electrical charge to become electrically neutral.  Like alphabets join together to make a word, atoms join together to make a molecule. Just as there are words of all lengths, a typical molecule may contain a few or a hundred or even a hundred thousand atoms. 
The atom of Oxygen gets stabilized when
it borrows one electron each
from the 2 atoms of Hydrogen 

Sodium sheds its extra electron to Chlorine and thus becomes
Electrically neutral and stable to form Salt molecule
If the size of the electron orbit is that of a football stadium
then the size of the entire nucleus would be that of a marble
Atoms are the smallest bits of ordinary matter and are made of just three basic components: electrons (negative electrical charge) whirling around a nucleus composed of neutrons (no electrical charge) and protons (positive electrical charge). An atom is so microscopic that to understand its size, we can use an analogy of a hydrogen atom which is about a quarter of a billion times smaller than a golf ball. If you imagine the hydrogen atom to be the size of a golf ball, then the golf ball would become as large as the earth. WOW!

If you change the number of neutrons an atom has, you make an isotope of that element. And, if you change the number of protons an atom has, you change the type of element it is.Currently, scientists know of 118 different elements.These elements are arranged on a chart called the Periodic Table of Elements.

Elements like gold, silver, copper and carbon, have been known for thousands of years. Others, such as meitnerium, darmstadtium and ununquadium, have only recently been discovered by scientists. 

The first 94 elements are found naturally, while the balance are synthesised in laboratory.

All matter is held together by four fundamental forces – The Strong Nuclear Force that binds the nuclei, the electromagnetic force that exists between all particles that have an electric charge, the weak nuclear force that is responsible for decay processes involving fundamental particles and the gravitational force that holds us onto earth and binds the galaxy.
The gravity pulls you to your seat,the electromagnetic separates you from your seat,
while the strong force holds the nucleus together and the weak force create the radioactive decay.
Without these forces, everything would fall apart and float away.

The scientists were ecstatic! They had discovered the atom and its composition and the fundamental forces of nature and were sure that they had affected the breakthrough that they were seeking. If they were bathing in a water tub, they would have gone running around naked shouting “Eureka, Eureka”. But because they were wearing clothes, they gathered together, excited and happy, “From a mixture to a molecule to an atom, we have reached the smallest building blocks. Let’s go to the mystics and tell them that all their mumbo jumbo about connectivity of matter and consciousness is utter nonsense. The Universe is uniquely matter and it has no connection to mind or consciousness.” 

But the rejoicing was premature ! The atom was NOT the smallest matter. While the electron is a truly fundamental particle (it is one of a family of particles known as leptons), it was found that neutrons and protons are made of smaller particles, known as quarks.

“Oh Gosh! when are where will this reduction of matter end?”, one of the younger scientists started lamenting. By the 1930, more subatomic particles were discovered, much smaller than atoms. Some were particles that made up the protons and neutrons. Some were anti-particles. The list of these subatomic particles discovered till now includes baryons, leptons, mesons, quarks, gluons, electrons and neutrinos. These subatomic particles were joined by light particles called photons.

Sub-atomic particles with different spins, charge and mass
Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator, built over 27 kms of magnetic tunnels at CERN where particles are accelerated by magnetic force from opposite sides and banged against each other to possibly create subatomic particles, can be the game changer. Already the Higgs boson particle has been discovered due to the CERN experiment !
The scientists looked at each other with astonishment and dismay. “Just when we thought we had it all sewn up, something new comes up and demolishes our theory” they said “Let us try and relook at our concepts and understandings once again. Maybe the mystics’ worldview was not far off the mark.”

PS: Every person’s journey of self-discovery is unique and different. This is mine and I am sharing the same. I am not looking for some Guru or expert who can give me readymade answers. I am travelling on this path and that journey itself is so enriching. I seek no short cut.

PPS: In my attempt to explain in the simplest language, I might be over-simplifying and rushing over subjects. This is good for first-timers or those seeking an overview, but might be too simplistic for someone deeply steeped in this knowledge. Do let me know, if you would like to understand in more details.

PPPS: Next week will be about theory of relativity and Einstein, black holes and the Cosmos. Do give your feedback.

Article by deepak

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