Physics Question #321

Jonathan Weiler, a 14 year old male from the Internet asks on January 21, 1998,

If atoms are so small, how can we split them?

viewed 14698 times

The answer

Barry Shell answered on January 21, 1998

People used to think atoms were the smallest possible things in nature.

Then they were split and found to contain neutrons, protons and electrons (and other things). People thought those were the smallest things. Then they split neutrons and protons and discovered they were made of quarks.

Now these are thought to be the smallest things. Maybe some day we will discover that there is something even smaller. It would not surprise me.

The reason we were able to split things into ever smaller pieces is because we developed higher and higher energy beams to do it. Currently the highest energy beam available is 900 billion electron volts. You can find out more about atom splitting technology and how nuclear rectors work on the United States Department of Energy website.


Add to or comment on this answer using the form below.

Note: All submissions are moderated prior to posting.

If you found this answer useful, please consider making a small donation to