Physics Van 3-site Navigational Menu

Physics Van Navigational Menu

Q & A: What does an atom look like?

Learn more physics!

Most recent answer: 03/12/2013
What does an atom look like for a 8th grade standard?
venlafaxine gewichtstoename read venlafaxine fk
naprosyn roche naprosyn nedir
fusidinezuur kopen fusidic acid
cialis coupon card coupon prescription cialis coupon

- Anonymous

Dear Winnie: 
We have a very long related thread here:  
A link to a picture is included in
Also see

The big problem with answering "what does an atom look like" is that in order to look at something, we normally shine light on it and observe the light that bounces off. Visible light has a wavelength that is much bigger than atoms. It is impossible to make out small details of objects by probing them with waves of large size -- the waves simply flow around the small object. Shorter-wavelength light may be used, but the energy per photon increases as the wavelength shortens. As it turns out, when the light has a wavelength comparable to the size of the atom or smaller, it has enough energy to change the atom by moving the electrons around. This is one consequence of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. We cannot say where the electrons are and how fast they are moving at the same time, and hence we cannot draw a picture with a little electron on one place sitting on a circular orbit. The fuzzy picture at the bottom of the page linked to is closer to the truth, describing the probabilities of finding electrons, depending on where you look for them.

The nucleus, containing protons and neutrons, has a similar problem, but it is much much smaller than the electron cloud, and hence the energy of a photon needed to resolve structure is much higher. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle applies to neutrons and protons as well, and so a fuzzy nucleus isn't such a bad representation either. But for show in a classroom, the clear pictures showing the details get across the important points that atoms consist of protons, neutrons, and electrons, that the protons and neutrons are in the nucleus and the electrons are found at larger radii.


claritinekombo claritine za psa
voltaren ára go voltaren
augmentin générique augmentin sirop
arcoxia 30 go arcoxia wiki
niacine niacin v hrani
cialis open cialis walgreen coupon
allods online allo allo
trental cena trental trental nuspojave
how expensive is an abortion do abortions hurt abortion clinics dallas tx

(published on 10/22/2007)

Follow-Up #1: What Atoms look like

What color are atoms? My 6 year old wants to know! And what they look like.
why people cheat infidelity signs how many people cheat
hillcrest abortion clinic site live abortion video
internet drug coupons coupons for prescription medications prescription coupon
internet drug coupons open prescription coupon
married men cheat with men open wifes cheat
types of abortions site what happens when you get an abortion
abortion pill clinics abortion pill prices for abortions
married cheaters dating for married men
discount card prescription go print cvs
online discount pharmacy coupon for prescription
online discount pharmacy viagra coupons and discounts coupon for prescription
viagra coupons from manufacturer drug discount coupons
new prescription coupon prescription coupon card
viagra coupons free drug coupons
can i take minocycline with birth control can i take minocycline with birth control can i take minocycline with birth control
can i take antabuse and naltrexone can i take antabuse and naltrexone can i take antabuse and naltrexone
cialis dosage and go cialis dose for copd pts
cialis price online link cialis price history
prescription drug coupons drug coupon
discount prescription drug cards open prescription discounts cards
voltaren ára voltaren duo voltaren
venlafaxine gewichtstoename venlafaxine fk
augmentin générique augmentin sirop
sildenafil pfizer link sildenafil sandoz
proscar vs propecia for hair loss proscar proscar pris
buscopan hund buscopan dosierung buscopan dragees
amlodipine 5 mg link amlodipine accord
vivitrol alcohol vivitrol implant narcan challenge

- Ellen Wetmore (age 40)
Groton MA

It's great to hear you have such a curious 6 year old! When he asks about what they look like, there are at least two sides to the question. One is what shape they are and the other is their color.

It turns out that visible light is no good for seeing the shape of atoms, because its wavelength is way bigger than the atom. In order for the shape to be clearly seen, an object has to be larger than the wavelength of light. The wavelength of visible light is about 400 nanometers to 700 nanometers (a nanometer is one billionth of a meter or about 1/15,000 to 1/200,000 of a human hair) but the largest atom is around 270 picometers in diameter or more than 1000 times smaller than visible light. So, while individual atoms can reflect visible light, because atoms are so much smaller than the light itself, you will never be able to see any more than a fuzzy dot.

In order to clearly visualize atoms, a scanning tunneling microscope is used which is a microscope that uses electrons instead of light to see very small objects. The resolution of these microscopes is good enough so that individual atoms can be seen as bumps. Some of the most famous pictures of individual atoms is the letters "IBM". Beyond actual images, you could take a look at some earlier responses to what atoms look like and some of the links provided . One picture of the letters "IBM" spelled from atoms is below.

As for the color, atoms can have visible colors, altough that's hard to see unless you have a lot of them. By an object's color, people sometimes mean the color of the light that bounces of it, and sometimes they mean the color of the light that it emits. 

Some atoms have very clear visble colos of emission, such as the sodium atoms that emit yellow light in some street lights. So when you see the yellow glow from a streetlamp, that could be the color of sodium atoms! Some others don't usually emit visible light.

All atoms will scatter some of the light that hits them. Usually they scatter more blue light than red. The molecules (pairs of atoms) in the air do that, and that's why the sky is blue. Any one atom or molecule doesn't scatter much, though.

Just as atoms can emit light, they can also absorb light. The colors you see when light goes through a collection of atoms that can absorb are just the colors that that particular type of atom doesn't absorb.

Erik +Mike W.

why people cheat infidelity signs how many people cheat
cheater click wifes who cheat
the best android phone link phone tracking apps
married woman looking to cheat My wife cheated on me most women cheat
married men cheat with men open wifes cheat
types of abortions read what happens when you get an abortion
discount card prescription print cvs
rite aid prescription transfer coupon coupon rite aid
diprolene site furosemide 40mg
imitrex 50mg flagyl 200mg
coupons for prescriptions new prescription coupons prescription drugs discount cards
can i take escitalopram in the morning link can i take escitalopram in the morning
cialis dosage and cialis dose for copd pts
where buy viagra online side effects from viagra use online viagra buy
cialis price online cialis price history
cialis coupon lilly coupons for cialis printable transfer prescription coupon
prescription drug coupons cialis coupons from lilly drug coupon
drug discount coupons link discount coupons for prescriptions
lilly cialis coupon click coupons prescriptions
naprosyn roche naprosyn wiki naprosyn nedir
arcoxia 30 go arcoxia wiki
flibanserin online flibanserin buy flibanserin buy
sildenafil pfizer link sildenafil sandoz
cialis open cialis walgreen coupon
amlodipine 5 mg amlodipine bijwerkingen amlodipine accord
nurofen cold and flu dosage nurofen plus dosage

(published on 03/12/2013)

Follow-up on this answer.