If Atoms Are Mostly Empty Space, Why Are Objects Solid

If Atoms Are Mostly Empty Space, Why Are Objects Solid?


The primordial, imperceptible and indivisible particle, whose history begins 2,500 years ago in Ancient Greece. The evolution of knowledge of the matter, the discovery of the atomic structure of reality, is, in fact, a broken and dramatic path, from the early intuitions of the ancient Greek philosophers to the gigantic particle accelerators of today and the pure energy of the future.

However, if anyone could see an atom would have a strange “sight” because the atoms are not very much made up of the big thing. At the centre of an atom, there is a small point called the nucleus. Around it rotates, almost like the planets around the Sun, small points of matter called electrons. However, there is plenty of free space between the electrons and the nucleus, which means that all of us, are made up of atoms, are formed of a lot of empty space.

If you imagine a normal table, but 1 billion times larger, then its atoms would be the size of the melons. But even so, the nucleus in the centre of the atoms would still be too small to be observed with the naked eye. And the rest, empty space. Imagine yourself supporting your table. Why do not our fingers pass through atoms if most of the space that forms the atom is empty? Well, first of all, the atoms are not empty. According to quantum electrodynamics, space is filled with an electron field around the nucleus that neutralizes the charge and fills the space that defines the size of the atom.

In a hydrogen atom, the nucleus and the electron are very far apart, in the sense that the atom is much larger than the nucleus (and the electron is smaller still.) But in a deuteron, the distance between the proton and neutron is comparable to the size of the proton and the neutron. This partly explains why the force between the proton and neutron is so much more complicated than the force in an atom.

It sounds weird, but you’re mostly empty space, so do your office, car, friends, all this universe. The size of an atom is governed by the average of its electron positions, the distance between the nucleus and electrons. The kernel is 100,000 times smaller than its atom. If the core is the size of a peanut, the atom would be a football stadium. If we remove the free space from our atoms, we would be enclosed in a dust particle, and the whole human species would not measure more than a sugar cube.

To explain why objects feel solid to the touch, we need to look at electrons. Unfortunately, much of what is taught in general school is simplified – electrons do not orbit the centre of an atom as planets orbit around the Sun.

We have to think of electrons like a bee swarm or birds, where individual movements are too fast to track them, but we can see the traces left, as in the picture below.

Hydrogen Wave Function

Where does it come from our mass?

Energy! At our base, we are composed of atoms, which are composed of electrons, protons, and neutrons. Even smaller, perhaps the smallest, these protons and neutrons, which make up our mass, are composed of a trio of fundamental particles called quartiles. The mass of these quarks corresponds to a very small percentage of proton and neutron mass. And the gluons, which hold the quarks together, do not have mass at all.

Many scientists believe that almost all our mass comes from the kinetic energy of quarks and gluon energy. Electrons practically dance around the atom. But it does not dance in a chaotic way, but rather resembles a dance in the ballroom, following precise patterns and steps, established by a mathematical equation named after Erwin Schrodinger.

These patterns can vary – some are slow, like a waltz, while others are fast and energetic. Each electron retains the same pattern, but from time to time it can change it as long as no other electron has ever danced that template. Two electrons in an atom can not dance in the same step, and this rule is called the Principle of Exclusion. The principle of exclusion, also called the Pauli Principle, is a principle of quantum mechanics formulated by Wolfgang Pauli in 1925.

He states that two identical fermions can not occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. For electrons in a single atom, it means two electrons can not have the same four quantum numbers. Since electrons are fermions, this principle forbids them to occupy the same quantum state, so that electrons have to “gather each other” within an atom. Although electrons never get tired, switching to a faster pace requires energy.

How We Perceive Solid | Atoms

The idea that atoms are mostly free space is one that creates confusion:

  • If the atoms are naked, for the most part, why can not we go through objects like ghosts?
  • Why do not cars fall asphalt to the centre of the Earth?

We have to understand the empty space otherwise space is never completely empty.

It is, indeed, full of other interesting things, such as quantum fields invisible and not only. You can think of the empty space inside an atom as a fan in operation. When it does not turn, you can put your hand between its wings, but when it starts, we have another situation. If you are reluctant and trying to put your hand between the moving waves, you will suffer physically and solidly consciously. Technically speaking, electrons are points, which means they do not have a volume, but they have a wave function, occupying an important part of the atom. Due to the quantum mechanics, the electron is simultaneous across that region of the atom.


The fan blades are like electrons that spin at atomic speed. What seems to be empty space seems solid. If you are sitting on a chair now, well, do not touch the chair because the matter is in the nucleus of the atoms. When you touch something or somebody, you do not feel the touch of atoms but the electromagnetic force of the electrons that reject your electrons. Technically speaking, you do not sit on the chair but you are above it, but at a very short distance. In other words, your body is very important and, at the same time, a collection of empty spaces on an empty planet in an empty universe.

Atom touch resistance

  • Why does a meal feel solid to the touch?

Many websites will tell you that this is due to rejection – that two negatively charged things have to reject each other. A more realistic explanation is that the table feels solid due to the electron dance that we mentioned above. When you touch the table, the electrons in your fingers are approaching the electrons in the table’s atoms. As the electrons in an atom get close enough to each other’s nucleus, the dance changes.

An electron on a lower energy level cannot be on the same energy level around another nucleus since this level is already occupied by one of the electrons of the other atom. So the electron of the first atom has to occupy a higher energy level around the second atom. This extra energy is generated by the finger rejection force on the table atoms.

So, to push two atoms close to each other requires energy because all of their electrons have to pass on an unoccupied upper energy level. Attempting to approach the atoms on the table finger requires a much larger amount than the one provided by our muscles. What we touch is actually a field created by electrons and whose mass is created by nuclei. The mass, in general, is due to the strong nuclear force generated by breaking symmetry. When two atoms or two molecules are touched, they reach their electron fields and reject each other. To a small extent, they attract themselves, called the attraction van der Walls, responsible for the formation of liquids. Thus touching is a real effect.

Brief History of the Atom:

  • 400 BC – Greek philosopher Democritus develops the first atomic theory. He says that the whole matter is made up of small, eternal, immutable and indestructible particles. Democritus invented the term atom, derived from the Greek atom, ie indivisible. Though based on simple insights, the philosopher’s ideas have been remarkably correct.
  • 1803 – British chemist John Dalton revives Democrit’s idea that atoms are the fundamental “bricks” of matter. However, Dalton’s atomic theory relies more on a century and a half on chemical experiments than on philosophical thinking.
  • 1815 – In a bold hypothesis, British chemist William Prout advances the idea that the atoms of all elements are made up of variable sets of hydrogen atoms.
  • 1867 – A major 19th-century Austrian scientist, Ludwig Boltzmann discovers the link between the behavior of the gases and the atoms they make up. He suggests that the atoms are in constant bruising and collision, in accordance with the laws of mechanics.
  • 1896 – Radioactivity is accidentally discovered by physicist Henri Becquerel while investigating the phosphorescence of uranium salts. He notes a powerful source of energy from within uranium atoms, the first proof that atoms not only exist, but they must also have an internal structure since they are capable of producing such energy.
  • 1897 – British Physician J.J. Thomson discovers the electron. Then he also proposes the first model of the internal structure of the atom – a model known as the “plum pie”. According to him, each atom is a sphere of positively charged matter, with negative electrons sinking into it, like plums in a pie.
  • 1900 – German physicist Max Planck announces the birth of quantum theory, proposing a simple equation explaining how heat is radiated by certain objects. He argues that heat radiation is not a continuous flow, like a wave, but it is transmitted through small energy bulbs. And at present, his scientific theory is used to explain how atoms behave.
  • 1900 – German physicist Max Planck announces the birth of quantum theory, proposing a simple equation explaining how heat is radiated by certain objects. He argues that heat radiation is not a continuous flow, like a wave, but it is transmitted through small energy bulbs. And at present, his scientific theory is used to explain how atoms behave.
  • 1902 – The most cherished theory of chemistry – according to which atoms are immutable – is buried by Ernest Rutherford (photo), New Zealand scientist, and his colleague Frederick Soddy. They prove that radioactivity is the process by which the atoms of an element turn into atoms of another element. The two researchers are considered the first true alchemists.
  • 1905 – In the grace year in which he published his study on the theory of relativity, Einstein proves mathematically that atoms exist. The scientist derives mathematical equations that describe how water molecule vibrations can cause pollen granules suspended in it to collide with one another.
  • 1911  -Rutherford deduced the correct internal structure of atoms, defying the model previously proposed by J.J. Thomson. Straining a beam of radioactive particles towards a thin gold leaf and detecting a certain rickets, Rutherford realizes that the atom possesses a weak positive charge and consists of a core surrounded by electrons that are orbiting it around it. Much of the atom represents empty space.
  • 1913 – Based on his studies of radioactivity, British chemist Frederick Soddy suggests that each chemical element can manifest itself under several different species, called isotopes. Soddy’s works inspired him to H.G. Wells novel The World Set Free, in which atomic bombs are launched in a war of the future. In the same year, physicist Niels Bohr (photo) extends Rutherford’s model, in which the atom is a miniature of the solar system, introducing ideas from quantum theory to explain how electrons absorb and emit light jumping from one orbit around the core. Bohr was also involved in the fictional Manhattan Project (see 1945).

  • 1914 – Rutherford suggests that all atoms are made up of two types of particles: protons and electrons. But the atomic nucleus, the “home” of protons, is even harder than it should be. The missing element, the neutron, will only be discovered after 18 years.
  • 1919 – A playboy and surfer, Francis Aston returns to Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge where he invented the mass spectrometer, a tool for individual atomic evaluation. He discovers 212 new natural isotopes.
  • 1925 – In January, Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli laid the foundations of modern chemistry announcing the principle of exclusion. It is based on quantum rules that explain how electrons are self-assembling inside atoms. In the summer of 1925, the young German genius Werner Heisenberg (photo), who was convalescent after an allergic rhinitis, laid the foundation for matrix mechanics, a mathematical model capable of explaining the atomic universe. Physicists can use the matrix to understand how electrons arrange themselves within the atoms, nucleus structure, and how atoms are arranged. For Christmas, Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger has an extramarital affair in the Swiss Alps and, with mathematical creativity “infuriated” by love, he discovers no less than one of the most important equations of physics. He believes electrons in atoms are not particles, but where.
  • 1927 – The fifth Solvay Conference takes place in Brussels. Physicists contradict the meaning of quantum mechanics, the new atom theory. Niels Bohr and his young disciples, Heisenberg and Pauli, win with their “Copenhagen interpretation”, establishing that the world inside the atom is naturally ineffective.
  • 1932 – Neutron – the third and last ingredient of the atom – is discovered by Englishman James Chadwick, and the painting is now complete. Atoms contain a nucleus made up of protons and neutrons, with protons orbiting around the nucleus. Meanwhile, the race to divide the atom is won by Englishman John Cockcroft (photo) and his assistant, Irishman Ernest Walton. During experiments at Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, they bombard the lithium with protons and separate the lithium nuclei in two.
  • 1938 – Nuclear fission is discovered by German chemist Otto Hahn (photo) and his assistant, Fritz Strassman. The results are explained by their former colleague Lise Meitner, who describes how atomization of uranium atoms causes energy discharges inside.
  • 1945 – America threw the atomic bomb over Japan, putting an end to the Second World War. In 1961, linked to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Robert Oppenheimer, Manhattan Project boss and “father of the atomic bomb,” said: “I have no consciousness. Scientists are not delinquent. Our work has brought about changes in people’s lives, but how these changes were used is the issue of government, not researchers. “
  • 1948 – Quantum Electrodynamics – the most accurate and influential atomic theory is developed by Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger, and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. The predictions of this theory on how electrons behave like small magnets are extremely precise. Also in the same year, the Russian-American physicist George Gamow (photo) presents his theory of how atoms were formed under extremely high-temperature conditions, just after the birth of the Universe, at the Big Bang.
  • 1956 – Erwin Müller, a German-American physicist, takes the first photo of the atoms. Using the ionic microscope, invented by himself 20 years before, manages to obtain images in which individual ions (atoms that have lost or gained electrons) can be clearly identified.
  • 1957 – Fred Hoyle, a cosmologist, an astrophysicist publishes the Star Syntheses work, along with William Fowler and Geoffrey & Margaret Burbidge, explaining how atoms are born inside the stars. The study is now considered the most important of all astrophysics.
  • 1964 – Astronomers Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson (photo) discover the “cosmic radiation of the background”, the bright remnant of the Big Bang. The origin of the lightest elements – hydrogen and helium – is now established. Also this year, American physicist Murray Gell-Mann advances the idea that particles made up of atomic nuclei are composed of even smaller entities: quarks.
  • 1968 – The validity of Gell-Mann’s theorem on quarks is demonstrated in an experiment at the Stanford Linear Accelerator in California, where heavy-duty electrons collide with protons. The way they ricochet confirms the existence of a deeper structure within the proton: three quarks.
  • 1981 – Tunneling Microscope (STM) is invented by Gerd Binning and Heinrich Rohrer in the IBM laboratory in Switzerland. The tool allows researchers to visualize and locate the position of atoms by determining the regions of high electron density, being used in the analysis of DNA molecules.
  • 1996 – At MIT, Wolfgang Ketterle, and his team present the first atomic laser. This instrument generates a beam of atoms rather than a luminous one. In the future, it could have many applications, especially in the field of nanotechnologies.
  • 2006  -The world’s heaviest atom is created at the Flerov lab in Russia and is called element 118 or ununoctium. Although he currently holds the world record as the heaviest atom, only three of his nuclei have been observed, as they “live” only a fraction of a second.

Back to the atom – Ten fascinating truths

  1. Atoms are empty space in 99.9%. If all the space will be removed from the body’s atoms, we would reach the size of a grain of salt.
  2. If we apply the same treatment to the entire human race, six billion people would fit inside a single apple.
  3. If the atomic nucleus had the size of a soccer ball, the nearest electron would be about 800 meters away from it.
  4. There are more atoms in a single glass of water than glasses of water in all the oceans of the world.
  5. Most atoms formed a few minutes after the birth of the Universe.
  6. The rest of the atoms were “baking” inside the stars that exploded as supernova billions of years ago.
  7. There are a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion atoms in the Universe. A count of 72 zeros in the queue.
  8. 1% of the whistle we hear when changing stations on the radio is the echo of the Big Bang.
  9. All atoms in the universe are composed of two types of elementary particles: electrons and quarks.
  10. Researchers can now move each atom using laser beams as tweezers.
  1. https://www.sciencealert.com
  2. https://futurism.com
  3. https://profmattstrassler.com
  4. http://www.descopera.ro
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