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Collapsing Atoms

In 1898 Henri Becquerel had discovered an entirely new physical phenomenon - radioactivity. This growth area in physics rapidly led to the realisation that atoms were not simply inert billiard balls. On the contrary, they have an internal structure. By the end of the first decade of the 20th Century sufficient research had accumulated for physicists to be able to begin making models of this structure. It was clear that atoms had a very small, dense, positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons.

Ernest Rutherford proposed a planetary model for the atom - electrons in orbit around a nucleus like planets around a star. The fly in the ointment was electromagnetism. An electric charge moving in a circle emits energy. If electrons are classical particles emitting energy in this way, they would very rapidly dissipate all their energy and fall into the nucleus.

A solution was offered by a young Danish physicist, Niels Bohr (see model and metaphor). The key was the abandonment of continuity in favour of quantisation. Bohr simply ruled out the possibility of electrons occupying every possible orbit. Instead they are confined to certain discrete energy levels. Although outlandish, his suggestion had the added attraction that it explained another anomaly - the fact that the light emitted by hot gases is emitted only at certain frequencies (spectral lines).

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

Quantum Physics and Theology

Index - God, Humanity and the Cosmos, 1999 T&T Clark

Collapsing Atoms

Related Book Topics:

The Ultraviolet Catastrophe
The Photoelectric Effect
Wave-Particle Duality
The Quantum Revolution
The Schrödinger Wave Equation
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
The EPR Paradox
Shaking the Foundations: The Implications of Quantum Theory
Schrödinger’s Cat and the Meaning of Quantum Theory
Does God Collapse the Wave Function?
The Hidden-Variable Theory of David Bohm
The Many-Worlds Interpretation
The Rediscovery of the Observer


Dr. Lawrence Osborn and Dr. Christopher Southgate in God, Humanity and the Cosmos. Published by T&T Clark.

See also:

Albert Einstein
Niels Bohr
Werner Heisenberg
Physics and Cosmology
The Relation of Science & Religion
A Dialogue of Scientists and Theolgians
At Home in the Quantum Universe
Books on Physics and Theology