What Is an Atom Composed Of?

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An atom is very small and dense and consists of a nucleus and orbiting electrons. Discover how a collapsed atom can cause a black hole with help from a science teacher in this free video on physical science.

Part of the Video Series: Physical & Life Science
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Steve Jones and I'm going to explain what the atom is composed of. Now first of all, my first reaction is the answer is nothing. Because basically it's made of nothing. The matter in an atom actually takes up such a very small space, there is actually nothing there mostly. It was Rutherford originally who actually put a gold film, a very thin gold film and passed alpha particles through it. These alpha particles most of them went straight through and he couldn't understand this and the only way he could explain it was that in fact the atom was not as we often though, a little solid billet bowl, the atom was actually made up of nothing but had a very, very dense center where all the mass was concentrated and that's what we think and we think the nucleus is in something like one ten thousandth of the diameter of the atom. So it's very, very small and the rest is basically space with a few electrons around the outside in orbit in particular energy orbits around the outside. So that's what your atom looks like. And this nucleus, this very concentrated nucleus is where all the mass exists. So we have protons in the nucleus, we have neutrons in the nucleus which gives it a positive charge and we have electrons which have a negative charge around the outsides. Now if that is the case with the atom actually being composed, we might think well why doesn't it just collapse into nothing? And the answer is it doesn't because of various electromagnetic forces but it can do and when it does, it causes something very, very special which we call a neutron star and when it really collapses under it's own gravity, we end up with a thing called a black hole where something the size of a planet ends up the size of an orange and that is very dense indeed. And it's so dense that light cannot get out of it. So when you actually collapse the atom down, you end up with something with such strong gravity that even light can't get out of it. And we have discovered these black holes all over in this galaxy and in other galaxies within space. So basically what is an atom composed of? The answer is nothing much but where there is matter, it is very, very dense in just a small piece that you can hold in your hand would weigh thousands of tons if it were nuclear material. So remember that, just a little handful of material would weigh many thousands of tons of this nuclear material. So basically that is what the atom is made of.


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