Physics Question #1745

Jessica Muller, a 22 year old female from Hamilton, Canada asks on December 12, 2003,

I have heard that some one discovered that the atom is actually made up of sound waves. Is there any truth to this?

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The answer

Barry Shell answered on December 12, 2003

The atom is made of entities like neutrons and protons that exist as a wave/particle duality. That is: sometimes they behave like particles--like little tiny balls bouncing around, orbiting, hitting each other--and sometimes they behave like waves--sound waves as you put it, reflecting, combining, interfering with each other. It's extremely confusing and totally impossible to visualize, but mathematically it works.

They are not sound waves, however. Sound waves need to have a medium like water or air, and they travel through the medium as a slight difference in pressure which is carried by the motion of the air or water molecules that make up the medium.

The waves that make up subatomic particles are different. They do not require a medium. They can travel in a vacuum. Also, they are sort of probability waves. Among other things like mass, momentum, and frequency, they describe the chance that a particle will be in a particular place at a particular time. It's all very confusing. The only way you can really understand it is with a ton of math that is too hard for normal people to grasp--including me.

If you need a better explanation just go to and type in something like: wave particle duality explained.

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