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Friday, May 09, 2008

And God created neutrons

I don't really know why God created neutrons, but I'm going to muse about this matter. Neutrons are one of the sub-atomic particles we first discovered. They were found to exist in the nucleus of most atoms.

Neutrons are one of (we think) a veritable "zoo" of subatomic particles. We now believe that neutrons are made up of three smaller quarks. Even though they are not considered to be fundamental (that is, basic building blocks, which cannot be broken down), the Wikipedia article on neutrons still lists them, with protons, as being one of the two building blocks of an atomic nucleus. They have no electrical charge, so do not interact with other particles in some of the ways that charged particles do. Why, then, did God make these anonymous entities? Obviously, we can only speculate about this, but I shall do so.

I guess that the main reason God made neutrons is that they make it possible for atomic nuclei to exist. (Except for the most common isotope of Hydrogen, Hydrogen1, which has no neutrons in its nucleus, just a proton.) Why do I say this? In the first place, atomic nuclei are extremely small. The Wikipedia article that is linked to earlier in this paragraph tells us that such nuclei are about 1/100,000 the size of the atom itself. Suppose that you were shrunk to 1/100,000 of your current size. You would be almost invisible to the naked eye. The nucleus is not only very small, but is extremely dense, roughly 10,000,000,000,000,000 kilograms per cubic meter. (A cubic meter of water would have a mass of about 1,000 kilograms.) The nucleus is packed! Or, in other words, you and I are mostly space, because most of an atom is basically empty, except for the tiny nucleus, and we are made of atoms. It's no wonder that some sub-atomic particles can pass right through us without hitting anything!

Not only is a nucleus dense, but electrical charges are concentrated there. Each proton has a single positive charge. All atoms, except for Hydrogen, have more than one proton. That means that from 2 to 92 positive charges are jammed into an exceedingly tiny volume. Like charges repel each other. So how is it possible that these protons can exist together in the nucleus? It isn't easy, but the presence of neutrons seems to make that possible. In other words, there is a force that holds the nucleus together, and it is stronger than the electrical repulsion forces that would break it apart.

If there were only one proton in all atomic nuclei, the only type of atom would be Hydrogen. As fine as these are, and as important, the complexity of matter, especially living matter, would be impossible if there weren't many types of atoms, not just one. Suppose you had to prepare a blog post, a poem, or a business document, with no letters but an h! Written communication would be impossible.

Without neutrons, you wouldn't be here. The hereditary information that came from your parents couldn't have existed, in the form of DNA. Without neutrons, your life would be dull and dry, assuming you somehow existed as you do now without them. There would be no flavor molecules, no sugars, no caffeine. There would be no semiconductors, no computers. No musical instruments, no paintings, no books, no flowers. Nothing but a cloud of Hydrogen.

I'm thankful for neutrons.

I don't understand everything about nuclear physics, by a long shot. For more detail on these topics, check the links in this post.

Thanks for reading.

6 comments:

Keetha said...

There's a site which claims to rate one's blog for reading level.

I ran mine through - - - Elementary.

Several other blogs I read got the same grade school rating.

Only one blog came back Junior High.

I was curious what yours would get - - - you are in the BIG LEAGUES - - - - High School.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks. I was trying to write for the more or less intelligent layperson.

Keetha said...

Well - - - I think you must be a GENIUS to HS level when the REST OF US only got elementary!

Martin LaBar said...

I wonder who is doing those ratings.

B Nettles said...

Without neutrons there would be no stars. You've got to have neutrons for the fusion process to get beyond H-1 plus H-1. So here's the chicken-egg question? Was there some H-2 and H-3 sitting around in those collapsing clouds of H-1 so that fusion would be efficient, or did the first H-1+H-1 reactions (making H-2 plus a positron) result in the first neutrons?

Neutrons are important.

Martin LaBar said...

June 27, 2008.

Your last statemnt was my point, of course, B. Nettles. As to your question, I have no idea. God does, of course.

Thanks.