Nothing Is Solid

Nov 05 2013

Ok, so I’m a pretty curious person. But I’m no genius. I like to understand things & that’s it. I’m lacking that incredible philosophical mind that great mathematicians and physicists seem to possess & their ability to conceive new ways of seeing the world and our place in it.  But as long as I can figure information out in terms of categories & I can understand it, then I’m happy with that. And scale. Scale helps me too.

So when I ask myself who am I in the Universe, I would begin with scale: I’m living in Dublin, Ireland which is in Europe, one of the 5 continents on our planet, one of the 9 planets that orbits our sun, which is one of millions & millions of other suns in our galaxy and there are millions of millions of galaxies which span across the universe millions of light years away. When I see myself that way, I feel pretty miniscule and relativley insignificant.

But looking at things from a smaller scale, who am I in terms of the smallest thing that makes up all the stuff in my body? Then I’m made up of skin & organs & bones & muscles and all those muscles, bones & organs & skin are composed of cells. Millions of cells. And each of those cells are made from millions & millions of molecules of different chemicals in my body. And each of those molecules are made from atoms, trillions of atoms. And each atom is composed of a dense core, a nucleus, containing 2 particles, a proton & a neutron. And then tiny, negatively charged electrons whizz around this nucleus. Lots of lovely categories just within my body. And on & on it goes.

And if I could take one of those nuclei contained in one of my atoms and placed it on my palm of my hand and stood in the middle of St Stephens Green, then the electron that whizzes around that nucleus would spin around the perimeter fence of St Stephen’s Green. That long black four-sided fence, almost half a kilometer each side. And what exists in between? Nothing. Its empty.  Empty space.  In fact there’s 99.9999% empty space in every single one of my atoms. Which means that all the atoms in my body are 99.9999% empty space. And yours too. And all the atoms in the ground. And the air. And everything in our Universe. Which means that we’re not really as solid as we think. In fact NOTHING is solid.  Maybe we’re just a mash-up of millions & millions of electrons whizzing around all those nucei in our bodies.  Nice.

Physics. Not just for geniuses.

This guest post was written by Dr. Niamh Shaw, who is a performer, scientist, and engineer. She tweets to awaken people's curiosity @niamhiepoos.

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