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Are atoms real?

  1. Sep 29, 2010 #1
    In my computer science class my prof rambled off into examples, one of which was atoms. He said that atoms were just a model for something that we really can't understand yet. Is this correct or is he under some kind of influence or a complete idiot (likely, he teaches programming 'backwards').
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 29, 2010 #2


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    Perhaps a bit more context would be helpful? "Just a model" seems a bit of an understatement to me. Depending on one's definition of "understand"- nothing can be "understood" ...
  4. Sep 29, 2010 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    It's quite possible for someone to be an expert in one field and an idiot in another field.
  5. Sep 29, 2010 #4


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    It is a matter of perspective and as such he is not wrong.

    fss is correct when he says it's a matter of what one means by "understand".

    We don't yet understand the underlying forces and components that make up the things that make up an atom. They are not well-behaved little billiard balls.
    They smear out when we look at them funny or when we don't look at them at all, or when we simply cool them...
    They flip over because of something we do on this side of the Thames, even though they're clear on the other side...
    They are comprised of things whose behaviour whne we're not looking we cannot know, the best we can do is build a probablility cloud...
  6. Sep 29, 2010 #5
    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory operated by the University of California –Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on August 4, 2010 had a news release that I thought was interesting. For the First Time Ever, Scientists Watch an Atom’s Electrons Moving in Real Time :

    [PLAIN]http://newscenter.lbl.gov/wp-content/uploads/classical-and-quantum.jpg [Broken]
    A classical diagram of a krypton atom (background) shows its 36 electrons arranged in shells. Researchers have measured oscillations of quantum states (foreground) in the outer orbitals of an ionized krypton atom, oscillations that drive electron motion.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  7. Sep 29, 2010 #6
    Atoms are definitely real. What we know about how they work is another story. There are different models of how an atom should look and behave but that doesn't mean an atom is a lie. The teacher is assigning his own interpretation of what an atom is and that could be false.

    Side note: In the sense that an atom is an indivisible unit, that would probably be a lepton or quark right now but it is convenient to keep calling bundled neutrons, protons, and elections an atom.
  8. Sep 29, 2010 #7
    Is reading ^

    Thanks for the input.

    I'm guessing he meant absolute definitive knowledge of such a thing.

    He may just be an idiot, I wouldn't call him a master of anything.
  9. Sep 29, 2010 #8
    It's a model and everyone is invited to find a better one. Until then, the current model is the practical "truth".
  10. Sep 29, 2010 #9
    Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has valuable information that I wanted to share. I suggest thoroughly exploring this wonderful website. It is a Science Education - Teacher Resource and a Student Zone.

    Also, "How do I make a model of an atom?" http://education.jlab.org/qa/atom_model.html
  11. Sep 29, 2010 #10


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    Well, that attitude was common about 130 years ago (E.g. Ernst Mach), although not among chemists who'd almost universally accepted the atomic theory by the 1840's.

    The definite death-knell to anti-atomism was Jean Perrin's series of measurements (circa 1910) of Avogadro's number, using a wide range of methods. I posted the beautiful summary of his results in https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=2092534&postcount=25". Of course, today it's far, far less disputable, since the 'discontinuous nature of matter' if you like, is measured hundreds if not thousands of times a day by crystallographers. Just to begin with.

    Atoms are as real as anything we know of.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  12. Sep 29, 2010 #11


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    I don't think he's suggesting our atomic model is wrong.

    He's dispelling the too-common notion that atoms are hard little billiard balls bouncing around.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2017
  13. Sep 29, 2010 #12
    What is determined from the use of instruments is true relative only to the instrument you're using and to where that instrument is located in space-time. Thus there is no real vantage point from which real reality can be seen. I.e. an atom

    So the act of measuring the atom defines not what the the atom is but only the instrument used to make the observation.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  14. Sep 29, 2010 #13


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    To me, that's like saying we can't view "Real" reality because we cannot see or touch objects, only see reflected light or feel the electromagnetic force pushing against us. After all, our senses are only instruments correct?
  15. Sep 29, 2010 #14


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    Just because we don't know everything there is to know, that doesn't mean we don't know anything: we know a lot and atoms are certainly real. "Just a model" (like "just a theory") is an understatement to the point of mischaracterization.
  16. Sep 29, 2010 #15
    It's a model, but it's not "just" a model.

    A construction project can be a birdhouse or a hydroelectric dam.

    The atomic model is world wonder of a dam, and it has taken at least as many years and hard working people to build it, and it is just as useful.
  17. Sep 29, 2010 #16


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    All true. And not in contention by anyone.

    We do not know that was the intent of the prof's comments. Not only did the OP paraphrase the prof, so we don't know what he actually said, but we are now in danger of second-hand assigning this prof our preconceived ideas of what he might have meant, and then turning around and judging him on it.

    We are obliged to give the absent party the benefit of the doubt.
  18. Sep 29, 2010 #17
    Observation::biggrin: I am really real! I call that the reality check.:biggrin: Gee whiz, I wish a certain individual would have reviewed my last two postings.o:) Oh, continuing onward . . .

    The American Physical Society - Physics Central:

    Another great article from June 30, 2010:
    Unpeeling atoms and molecules from the inside out

    This woman(aka me) has won because I have done the research! Let's see what man decides to do battle with me. Denying me the right exist. LOL! I have to paint my fingernails red now.
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2010
  19. Sep 29, 2010 #18


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    I don't think anyone knows what you're talking about.

    You know, everyone seems to be behaving as if the prof said "atoms aren't real".

    He didn't, at least according to the OP's paraphrase.
  20. Sep 29, 2010 #19
    Well Dave who was responding to my contribution? It was cp-svalbard when he wrote:
    I replied to the person in my last post on this page.

    Please don't be including me in the everyone. I've already contributed on both pages to this topic that they are real. Anyone that can read what I have presented knows that much.

    Who is the he that you are referring too?
  21. Sep 29, 2010 #20
    What we say we know about an atom doesn't tell us anything about what an atom is, it only defines how our consciousness defines "reality."
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