Name: Marvin S.
Date: Sunday, September 15, 2002
If I were to go inside a c-12 atom and my size was
thousands of times smaller than an electron, what would I see?
At the center of the atom is a small but heavy cloud, the nucleus. This
cloud has twelve extremely heavy particles with practically no size to them.
They are moving too fast to actually see, shooting around within this cloud.
Six are very electrically active, always absorbing and releasing little
bundles of electrical energy called photons (light at the scale of
particles). These six electrically active particles are protons. Also
shooting around within the nucleus are the six less active particles called
neutrons. All twelve of these particles are constantly shooting particles
called pions back and forth between each other. There is much more within
the nucleus than just six protons and six neutrons.
Outside the center is a cloud of electrons. If the nucleus seems to be
about a foot wide, the electron cloud is about two miles wide. Usually
there are twelve electrons shooting every which way too fast to even try to
see. You just see a "cloud of motion". Like protons, these electrons are
very active, always absorbing and emitting photons. An electron that
absorbs energy from a photon speeds up and jumps toward the outside of the
cloud. An electron that loses energy to a photon drops inward from the
outside of the cloud. Whether you are inside the nucleus or in the electron
cloud, you had better hope nothing hits you.
Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Illinois Central College
An interesting question, but the answer is "nothing". In fact, the
question is not well defined in a number of ways; our life depends on
atoms being MUCH smaller than we are. Are you assuming your eyes
would be made of the same molecules, except smaller? That is,
however, not possible since Planck's constant really defines what we
mean by "small"; you cannot have smaller molecules.
Also, you need photons to see. The photons that your eyes are
sensitive to correspond to wavelengths MUCH longer than the
sizes of molecules and so cannot be used to "see" any detail in
molecules. For example, the smallest orbit of a hydrogen atom
has a radius of 0.053 nm (1 nm = 10-9 m = 0.000000009 m) and
visible light has a wavelngth around 500 nm. Photons with wavelengths
small enough to "see" an atom would be so energetic that they would
break up an atom since their energy is inversely proportional to their
For many reasons, life of complexity similar to us must remain at
about our size, certainly large enough that atoms are MUCH smaller.
Another problem with your question is that an electron, as far as we
know, is a point particle. That is, it is of zero size and so neither
you nor anything else can be smaller than an electron. It is indeed a
strange universe out there! The strangest part may be that it is put
together in a way that makes our life possible.
Best, Dick Plano
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Update: June 2012