Do atoms break when we break something?

31 October 2010


Why when we cut something, its atoms don't get cut? Or why when we break things, there atoms don't break?


Dave - A very good question. It depends what you mean by break up the atom. Actually, an atom is made up of a nucleus in the centre with all the electrons on the outside. It's relatively easy to break electrons off the outside of an atom and sometimes when you break a material, you can rip off some of the electrons on one side and not the other. This is the reason why, if you crush things like sugar, sometimes you build up more charge on one side than the other, and you get sparks going back again and so you'll get little flashes inside the sugar. But the actual nuclei of the atoms don't break at all when you do anything like that. You need to do something far more violent to it, involving a nuclear reactor or radiation, something far bigger and more violent than that.

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