How Small is Atom Small Small Small

How Small is a H2O or 3 Atoms or Picotechnology!

Donald Wilshe: How small is a water molecule? The water molecule is approximately a little ball or a sphere with a diameter of about 3×10-10 m. We’re not going to discuss the details of what's inside the sphere. For that you can refer to the reference shown. But just how small is 3×10-10 m? When we get done, we’ll have a better understanding of just how small 3×10-10 m is. Now I can hear many of you saying to yourself why bother with this? Well, here is why. Whenever you see, hear, feel, smell or taste something it’s because molecules are doing something. If you want to make something new or make something better the more you understand what molecules do, the better your chances of getting it done.

In the next few minutes we’re not going to be talking about what molecules do, but just how small they are. I'm trying to give an explanation, you can understand even if you're not a physicist. Let’s take a ¼ cup of water. I put the ruler in the background for those of you who never cooked anything and don't know how big a ¼ cup of water is. I’ve made an ice cube in our ¼ cup and pulled it out just you so you can see more clearly the volume of water we’re talking about. Let's take all the water molecules in our ¼ cup of water, make them big enough so we can see them and then see how big the ¼ cup would be if it were made of the larger water molecules. I’ve decided to make the water molecule about 2 mm in diameter because that’s small but we can still see it.

And it’s the size of a glass bead that I can get a whole box of it from Walmart for two bucks. So if all the water molecules are increased in size so they are 2 mm in diameter then the ¼ cup of water would be how big. Or in other words, the water molecules are the building blocks of the ¼ cup of water. How big of volume would the water molecules make if they were 2 mm in diameter. We’re not going to get into the difference between the volume occupied by ice and water because water expands when it freezes. For the purpose of what we are trying to do here we’re going to pretend our ice cube is liquid water.

So how big? Really big, no, we’re not through, taking the area, the size of the continental USA. Now put a wall around it that is 1.35 miles high, that's how big a ¼ cup of water would be if all the water molecules were 2 mm in diameter. Now the wall I made out of scotch tape is not to scale. The wall would only be 1.35 miles high, not the size of the State of Illinois high. Imagine you were in Mexico and the wall went up and the country was filled with water. If the wall were made of glass you could walk up to it and see the water molecules. It would be like looking through the plastic cover on a box of beads. Each water molecule would be the same size as a bead. I've taken a few beads out of the box and set them by the ruler so you can see their size.

How Small is a H2O or 3 Atoms or Picotechnology!

You probably already know that everything is made up of little tiny things called atoms. You might even know that each atom is made up of even smaller particles called protons, neutrons and electrons. And you’ve probably heard that atoms are small. But I bet you have never thought about how small atoms really are. Well, the answer is that they are really, really, really small. So you ask just how small are atoms? To understand this, let's ask this question. How many atoms are in a grapefruit? Well, let's assume that the grapefruit is made up of only nitrogen atoms, which isn't at all true, but there are nitrogen atoms in a grapefruit.

Well, to help you visualize this let's blow up each of the atoms to the size of a blueberry and then how big will the grapefruit have to be. You have to be the same size of – well actually the earth. That’s crazy. Even say that if I filled the earth with blueberries, I would have the same number of nitrogen atoms as a grapefruit, that's right. So how big is the atom? That’s really, really, really, really small.

And you know what, it gets even more crazy. Let's now look inside of each atom and that’s the blueberry, right. What do you see there? In the center of the atom is something called the nucleus, which contains protons and neutrons and on the outside you'd see electrons. So how big is the nucleus?

Well, if atoms are like blueberries in the earth, how big would the nucleus be? You might remember the old pictures of the atom from your science class where you saw this tiny dot on the page with an arrow point the nucleus. Well, those pictures well they're not drawn to scale so they’re kind of wrong. So how big is the nucleus? So if you popped open the blueberry and we’re searching for the nucleus, you know what, it would be invisible. It's too small to see. Okay, let’s blow up the atom, the blueberry to the size of a house. So imagine a ball that is as tall as a two-storey house. Let's look for the nucleus in the center of the atom. And you know what it would just barely be visible.

So to get our minds wrapped around how big the nucleus is we need to blow up the blueberry up to the size of a football stadium. So imagine a ball the size of a football stadium and right smack dive in the center of the atom you'd find the nucleus. And you could see it and it would be the size of a small marble. And there is more if I haven't blown your mind right now, let’s consider the atoms some more. It contains protons, neutrons and electrons. The protons and neutrons live inside of the nucleus and contain almost all of the mass of the atom, way on the edge are the electrons. So if an atom is like a ball the size of a football stadium with a nucleus in the center and the electrons in the edge what is in between the nucleus and the electrons?

Surprisingly, the answer is empty space, that’s right, empty between the nucleus and the electrons there are vast regions of empty space. Now technically, there are some electromagnetic fields but in terms of stuff matter it is empty. Remember this vast region of empty space is inside the blueberry which is inside the earth which really are the atoms in the grapefruit. Okay, one more thing. If I can even get more bizarre since virtually all of the mass of an atom is in the nucleus and now there is some amount of mass in the electrons but most of it is in the nucleus, how dense is the nucleus? Well, the answer is crazy. The density of a typical nucleus is 4x1017 kg/m3. But that's hard to visualize.

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