AMAZING ARTICLES #18: ELEMENTARY
PHYSICS AND CHEMISTRY
"complexity is only deceiving simplicity."
It happened, one good day, that John Doe turned the corner into the other side.
Now, although he
had been labeled by many as "a loser", John was a very good man, therefore it was no wonder he went
straight into Heaven. On the other hand, John had never been a religious person. After living a life of deprivations among the livings,
John couldn't find much love and compassion in the deepest corners of his soul towards God. Of course, that
was totally not important to God.
Slightly annoyed, John inquired, "Listen, God, why did you bless me with such
a harsh living?"
God smiled indulgently, then replied, "First of all, in spite of all privations you managed fairly well, John,
in the end. Secondly, a hard life helps me to identify those who do deserve to enter
"Yeah, but that was a bit unfair; don't you think so?"
"Come here, John; let's watch together your steps through life."
God presented John's footprints through life, and John noted that, from place to place, his footprints were
accompanied by another set of footprints. "Whose footprints are those accompanying mine, God?"
"Those are my footprints, John. You couldn't see me, but I was near, to help you
"Aha! Look, when it was the hardest for me there is only one set of footprints. Where were you
God watched John disappointedly for a while, then confessed, "Well,
when I had to carry you, my son."
[Fragment from "Global Picture in News" February 11,
2007. © Corollary Theorems Ltd.]
The idea behind this article is to explain
a few things about Physics, Chemistry,
and Mathematics--if possible--because we suspect that many readers need a little help
in understanding our
Amazing Articles, and our
SF books. Now, real life is far from the perfection of particular solutions to differential equations on paper. In
fact, for us, scientific reality is very much a mystery! What we know in terms of
Physics, Chemistry, and
Mathematics is not sufficient to help us understand what are "life", the "atom", the Universe, and
. . .
most other "things". However, it is our duty to persevere, and to continue unveiling the mysteries of our
environment. Of course, to start, we have to use the basic knowledge we already have.
The atom is a small perfect engine consuming enormous quantities of
energies--if we consider its small dimensions
and very long periods of time--coming from "somewhere". The atom looks like a small planetary system,
having a nucleus, and electrons spinning around. The atom has three main components: electrons, protons, and
neutrons. The protons and neutrons stick together, and they form the nucleus. Almost the entire mass of the atom is
the sum of neutrons and protons' weight, because the electrons are very light, and also
quite mobile. An atom
belongs to a chemical element, and we do encourage everybody to find on the Internet the
Periodic Table of
Elements (well, a better one than what we present here), then print it and keep it permanently within your sight: it is very important!
THE PERIODIC TABLE OF ELEMENTS
The Periodic Table of Elements--element is another name for atom--has been first put together by a great Russian
scientist named Dimitri Ivanovich Mendeleev, around 1850s. Another scientist, French this time, named
Laurent Lavoisier was very close to discovering the Periodic Table before
Mendeleev did; Lavoisier made, however,
great contributions to the Periodic Table. There are 118 named atomic elements today in our Periodic
Table--well, more or less--but the true beauty is, it is still open!
Because we know so little about Universe, it is possible in other Planetary Systems atomic elements are
different than the ones we know on Ter-Ra. Now, the neutrons and the protons are very much alike, except the
protons hold the positive electrical charges, while neutrons have no electric charges. The protons are build out
of three pairs of quarks, but we do not know much significant details about that aspect. In fact, we do not know
sufficiently enough about anything, concerning the atom. It is very interesting to note that all atomic components vibrate
according to specific
frequencies. That vibratory nature has led to the
Theory we use today which says, atomic
components have a dual nature: of a particle, and of a wave.
Quantum Mechanics is just a theory (in fact, a bunch of theories) and the scientists are working very, very hard
trying to prove it right, except things do not look very well--please read our previous articles. In opposition, a
Physical Law is a true, proven, possibly even an absolute statement. However, all our
Physical Laws are
considered Laws only for our close, local system of spatial coordinates--which is, more or less, our
System--with all its specific physical characteristics. Now, we do not know what is beyond the quark, but there are
some speculations--please, never misjudge any Physics speculations because
they could be the very letter
of the truth in the near future.
As mentioned, the electrons are mobile atomic components holding
negative charges, and they move very fast around the nucleus. What keeps
them spinning that way, and why they do it is, again, not entirely
known. In addition, the electrons group themselves in
orbital layers named: "s", "p", "d", "f" and
"g". Do not bother to remember exactly all these details; important is
only the idea: the "layers
of electrons" (or "electron orbitals", or "electron shells").
Each layer of electrons groups electrons having the same specific energy level. The electrons are in fact trapped inside those
"energy orbitals", or energy levels. Another name used for those energy levels is "potential
Things are this way: the electrons spin around the nucleus at specific distances, and each
of those specific distances
forms a "potential pit". The electrons cannot--easily--jump from one potential pit to another. Each
potential pit holds a certain number of electrons: the "s" layer holds only 2; the "p" layer
holds 8; "d" holds 18; "f" holds 32; "g" holds 50 (according to the formula [2
where N is the orbital number). Please be aware the arrangement of the electrons inside the orbitals is rather
complex, and it has particularities. Use the Internet to explore this fantastic topic because it is,
Anyway, because the electrons spin very fast around the nucleus within an orbital (potential pit) we also name
those pits, statistically this time, electronic clouds. Now, we know 118 atomic elements--or something around this
figure--but you should be aware that, in nature, atomic elements come as
isotopes. That means an atomic element, say H (Hydrogen)
having 1 proton may come with one proton plus one neutron, and it becomes a
Hydrogen isotope named Deuterium. Other Hydrogen atoms come with two extra neutrons, and that isotope is named
Tritium. Atomic elements have (naturally or artificially) many isotopes: five, nine, or even more.
The atoms are grouped into: metals, nonmetals, and inert--noble gases--elements. Metallic atoms are capable to
"let free" electrons; nonmetallic atoms are "sucking"
free electrons; inert atoms do not give or
take electrons and, in consequence, they do not react with other atoms.
By giving or taking electrons, different
atoms are capable of grouping together to form the next level of matter structure which is
substances (substances, or molecules).
Compound substances are structured in two main groups, very important: organic, and
inorganic substances. Organic
substances are formed on Ter-Ra out of only 6 atomic elements: Carbon, Hydrogen,
Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and
Sulfur. Specific to our organic chemistry (on Ter-Ra) is, the base element of
all organic matter--this is us and all
living organisms--is Carbon. However, organic substances may have a Sulfur base, a
Phosphorous base, or
In fact we have discovered Sulfur-based organisms living happily at 350 Celsius
temperature, in total
darkness, without Oxygen though in a rich Sulfur environment, right here on Ter-Ra! No
Carbon based organism can survive above 50
Celsius degrees--well, there are a few exceptions: bacteria. Now, the combinations of those
6 atomic elements around
the Carbon atoms allow for about one hundred thousand organic substances known, though we do discover new ones
Liquid inorganic substances are structured in a particular way. The most important substance is
water, H2O, which is considered chemically neutral: it has a "pH" (chemical activity) of 7. Above pH 7 there are the
acids, and below pH 7 are the bases. For those who do not know, a base substance behaves exactly as an
acid one; the only difference is, they are opposed chemically--in fact a base
plus an acid neutralizes
As mentioned, the atoms group together to form substances, and that little first group is named
molecule. The molecules interact with each other, and they form the states of the matter:
gases, liquids, and
solids. However, when we heat a substance or an element to thousands of Celsius degrees, it will form
the fourth state of matter named
plasma. Both Physics and Chemistry are extremely exciting and interesting domains to study, and they are
also capital in importance for any Civilization/Culture.
Let's take a practical application: the atomic bomb. In order to build an atomic bomb, all we have to do is,
we should put
together a certain quantity--named critical mass--of a particular radioactive isotope. Anybody could
"build" an atomic bomb just by joining together, by hand, pieces of that particular radioactive
happen this way. Towards the last elements in the Periodic Table, the atomic elements have very many neutrons in
their structure. Now, some elements are naturally radioactive, meaning, their atomic structure is unstable,
and they radiate neutrons. Because of that natural radiation, a few atomic elements change themselves from
one isotope down to another, and even into another element, over time: for example
Uranium (U) will become Lead (Pb)
after a few thousand years.
Radioactivity (or natural/artificial emission of neutrons) has a particularity: there are fast neutrons, and slow ones.
neutrons are able to fission--break--another atom, and that fission action will result in more fast neutrons being
emitted, plus a lot of energy is produced. If we have a certain quantity of a radioactive isotope, we can be
certain there is a fixed, statistical number of fast neutrons emitted at any given moment. By increasing the mass,
the number of fast neutrons also increases up to a certain limit. That limit is named "the critical mass",
and it is characterized by a particular number of fast neutrons, high enough to initiate the entire mass into
fission: this is the atomic bomb. Amazingly, this critical mass is not very heavy; it varies between 4 to 20 Kg for various
radioactive isotopes. That is all we need, in order to build an atomic bomb.
Now, the thorny problem is in purifying particular radioactive metallic isotopes, because very complex chemical reactions
are needed. Why that complex? First of all, if we work with large quantities of radioactive substances we could
initiate the atomic bomb right on the laboratory bench. Then, nuclear radiation is a real danger for all living
organisms, because those fast neutrons will penetrate and destroy all living tissue/cells--since they break/fission the
The purification process is very long, it is quite complex, and it works with
very small quantities only. Sometimes the process
is reversed, and some isotopes are "enriched" with neutrons, thus going from lighter isotopes to heavier
ones. Everything is pure chemistry, and the radioactive isotopes are handled, mostly, as atomic elements embedded
into a liquid substance.
Once the purification phase is
ended, comes the process of forming the mass. In principle, people form a
ball--or something--which is missing a sector, or a part of it. The sector is held separately, at a certain
distance. When the despicable atomic explosion is required/needed, the missing sector is brought mechanically into contact
with the big chunk of radioactive metal, thus reaching the critical mass: the result is a terrible, disastrous
The next step of "terrestrial ingenuity" is the fusion bomb. In this case the critical mass has the
shape of a sphere. Inside the atomic bomb sphere there is another sphere filled with a mixture of hydrogen
isotopes. First, the atomic explosion takes place, and that creates a temperature of millions of Celsius degrees.
Next, the hydrogen atoms fuse together to form helium atoms, and that process liberates additional energies, therefore
initiating the even more terrible thermonuclear bomb.
We do not enjoy describing these things; we did it only to help you understand that there is not much intelligence
involved in making either the fission or the fusion bombs. More or less, both phenomena happen by themselves in
some particular conditions, as is the critical mass. Developing the atomic bomb
it doesn't mean a lot of knowledge about
the atom; it takes just a certain level of chemical purification technology.
The fission and fusion bombs do not help the development of our Civilization, and THEY ARE NOT symbols of
Civilization. They are just some unfortunate collateral effects, and we have "discovered" them by stumbling over.
First published on June 14, 2005
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