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Space in an atom

  1. Mar 1, 2009 #1
    If I understand it right an atom is made up of mostly empty space.
    What is the nature of this space?
    Is it like the space-time that Albert Einstein spoke of?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 2, 2009 #2


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    In theory, yes. In practice, applying Einstein's model of space time to spaces of this small is one of the big projects on which physicists are currently working. Einstein,s general relativity gives us a good understanding of how spacetime behaves over large areas. But the space can set an atom should be dominated by quantum mechanical effects, and no one really understands (yet) just how those effects will manifest themselves.
  4. Mar 3, 2009 #3
    Let's consider a block of carbon. Its density is 2.25, and its gram molecular weight is 12, meaning that 12 grams, or 5.33 cubic cm, contains Avagadro's number, or 6 x 10^23 atoms. Then the "volume" of 1 atom of carbon is 8.88 x 10^-24 cubic cm, equivalent roughly to a cube 2.07 x 10^-8 cm on a side. But the carbon nucleus is perhaps a "sphere" with a radius of about 2 x 10^-13 cm. Thus the ratio of atom dimension to nucleus dimension is about 100,000 to 1. The volume ratio is about 10^15 to 1. Most of the mass of the carbon atom is in the nucleus, with 6 electrons "filling" the rest of the space. For most purposes this space is empty, except that very close to the nucleus, the electric field is very high. This high field occasionally produces virtual electrons and positrons, meaning that they exist only for very short times, and disappear as quickly as they were created. So yes, there is a lot of empty space in atoms, and no, the vacuum is not completely empty.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2009
  5. Mar 3, 2009 #4
    I think the vacuum is also filled with a lot of neutrinos which do not interact with matters easily.
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