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Q & A: Origin of Electric Charge

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
Can you explain me what gives the electron (and proton) electric charge? Thanks!
- Szabo Sorin (age 21)
West University, Romania
A:
That's a very tough question, and I'm afraid the answer is no, I can't answer it.

In some cases, you can give a little bit of an answer. The proton gets its charge from the charges of the quarks that it's made of. Of course then the question becomes why the quarks are charged.

Of particular interest is why the electron and proton charges have the same magnitude but opposite sign so they cancel each other exactly (as far as we can tell) to make electrically neutral atoms. If we understood why the proton's quarks' charges all add up so neatly to cancel the electron's charge, maybe we can make some progress in understanding why any of these particles is charged at all.

Theorists do have arguments explaining the connection between the existence of electrical charge and the form of the equations describing the behavior of particles on a small scale. At some level, however, we always end up having to say that nature just gave us certain ingredients.

(published on 10/22/2007)

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