The Atom Essay

1478 words - 6 pages

A good discussion of the pros and cons of using the atomic bomb to end World War II -AP PhysicsPeriod 2The AtomIn the spring of 1897 J.J. Thomson demonstrated that the beam of glowing matter ina cathode-ray tube was not made of light waves, as 'the almost unanimous opinion ofGerman physicists' held. Rather, cathode rays were negatively charged particles boilingoff the negative cathode and attracted to the positive anode. These particles could bedeflected by an electric field and bent into curved paths by a magnetic field. They weremuch lighter than hydrogen atoms and were identical 'what ever the gas through which thedischarge passes' if gas was introduced into the tube. Since they were lighter than thelightest known kind of matter and identical regardless of the kind of matter they were bornfrom, it followed that they must be some basic constituent part of matter, and if they were apart, then there must be a whole. The real, physical electron implied a real, physical atom:the particulate theory of matter was therefore justified for the first time convincingly byphysical experiment. They sang success at the annual Cavendish dinner.Armed with the electron, and knowing from other experiment that what was leftwhen electrons were stripped away from an atom was much more massive remainder thatwas positively charged, Thomson went on in the next decade to develop a model of theatom that came to be called the 'plum pudding' model. The Thomson atom, 'a number ofnegatively electrified corpuscles enclosed in a sphere of uniform positive electrification'like raisins in a pudding, was a hybrid: particulate electrons and diffuse remainder. Itserved the useful purpose of demonstrating mathematically that electrons could be arrangedin a stable configurations within an atom and that the mathematically stable arrangementscould account for the similarities and regularities among chemical elements that theperiodic table of the elements displays. It was becoming clear that the electrons wereresponsible for chemical affinities between elements, that chemistry was ultimatelyelectrical.Thomson just missed discovering X rays in 1884. He was not so unlucky in legendas the Oxford physicist Frederick Smith, who found that photographic plates kept near acathode-ray tube were liable to be fogged and merely told his assistant to move them toanother place. Thomson noticed that glass tubing held 'at a distance of some feet from thedischarge-tube' fluoresced just as the wall of the tube itself did when bombarded withcathode rays, but he was too intent on studying the rays themselves to purse the cause.Rontgen isolated the effect by covering his cathode-ray tube with black paper. When anearby screen of florescent material still glowed he realized that whatever was causing thescreen to glow was passing through the paper and intervening with the air. If he held hishand between the covered tube and the screen, his hand slightly reduced the glow on thescreen but in the dark shadow he...

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