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Name: Gravitoindia
Status: student
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Question:
How can subatomic structures be seen ? (nucleus, neutrons, protons and electrons)



Replies:
Gravitoindia,

Seeing with your eyes:
A source of light is "aimed" at the object. The light is absorbed by the object and then sent back out by the object. The light enters your eyes. You brain interprets the patterns received by your eyes to create a visual image of the object.

Seeing a sub-atomic particle:
A source of radiation is aimed at the particle. The radiation interacts with the particle (perhaps absorption, perhaps pushed back without ever making contact). Radiation is then sent back out due to this interaction with the particle. Sensors detect this radiation. People interpret the patterns received by the sensors to create a visual image of the particle.

Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Physics Instructor
Illinois Central College


Your's is a profound scientific question, and I don't think there is a single, simple answer. Traditions says we humans have "five senses" -- sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch -- and we do not know fully how all of these work, and there is even some blurring of these senses. Examples -- with your eyes closed, you can "feel" (or is it "see"?) the radiation from a hot stove. You can also "feel" (or is it "hear"?) the vibrations from a high amp speaker.

From the earliest stages of experimental science, humans (and other species) have striven to extend the limitations of their ways of observing -- magnifying glasses, microscopes, microphones -- it is a long list of instruments that either increase the sensitivity or the range of the "five senses". These efforts have led to increasingly sophisticated instruments for particular applications. In turn, these efforts have contributed to a theoretical understanding of the information these instruments are "telling" us -- even when this might be a voltage on an instrument (which is already an extension of a sophisticated set of components), or a mark on a photographic film.

So how we can "see" subatomic particles is not isolated, but rather is a complex extension of our observations of "Nature".

Vince Calder



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