Is it possible that atoms evolved? (And other atomic questions)

  • 3 Replies

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


Offline haley_cooper1127

  • First timers
  • *
  • 1
    • View Profile
The microorganism that was earth's first form of life evolved over many years into things that we see now. People, animals, plants and such. Atoms, in order to be stable, need electrons, protons and neutrons. But there are unstable atoms and in attempt to stabilize themselves, they become radioisotopes. Like humans evolving out of their imperfections, did atoms do this as well? Atoms seem to want to be stable. Is that where all of the different elements come from? Are radioisotopes like the artifacts of an ancient civilization that tell a story of the past where atoms had to evolve in a changing world? Could atoms have evolved like dogs did from wolves? Like man from apes? The universe seems to be a dogmatic place with laws that cannot be broken, yet the environment dynamic. With different planets, exploding stars and such. But before the Big Bang, of course none of us truly know what anything was like prior to that, is it possible that atoms were different? That they were all radioisotopes? Did anything even exist before the Big Bang? The Big Bang was obviously an event, but what if it was some sort of explosion that was caused by something that came before it? Like a universe before our own. What if there was some sort of colossal catastrophe that caused it? Did atoms actually come into existence when the Big Bang happened? If any of my information is wrong, please point it out. I'm just beginning to learn about these things and don't fully understand them yet. I have so many thoughts running through my mind right now and I hope the questions I have written make sense. Sorry if they don't!


Offline chiralSPO

  • Global Moderator
  • Neilep Level Member
  • *****
  • 1936
    • View Profile
It is difficult to speculate about what may or may not have happened before the big bang, but I am fairly certain atomic evolution is not in the cards. There is a better explanation of what makes atoms stable or unstable, how we came to have the current distribution of elements, and how that will change with time.

Long story short: shortly after the big bang almost all atoms were hydrogen, with a trace of a few helium isotopes. Eventually this primordial gas succumbed to gravity, which pulled it into enormous dense clouds which collapsed even further and the gravity eventually became so strong that it started fusing light elements together to make heavier ones. It takes one or two neutrons to help stick every two protons together, but too many neutrons in a nucleus of an atom and it becomes unstable (there are some subtler points here too that I am not mentioning)--so most stable isotopes have about a 1 to 1 ratio of neutrons and protons. Each element is determined by how many protons are in the nucleus. It becomes harder and harder to fuse larger nuclei together, and easier to break them apart, so elements up to iron (26 protons) can be made in stars. Heavier elements are produced in supernovae and the heaviest elements (including many radioactive isotopes) are created by giant impacts involving neutrons stars.

You might be able to call this process an evolution of sorts (evolution just means change over time). None of the atoms are propagating themselves (though there are some known catalytic nuclear synthesis processes in stars), only very stable isotopes last a long time, and unstable ones break apart in a very predictable (though probabilistic) way. As the eons pass, the amount of hydrogen in the universe will continue to decrease slowly as heavier elements become more abundant. There may be occasional spikes in the amount of very heavy elements, as stellar catastrophes occur, and then the atoms decay back into more stable smaller fragments (though on a cosmic scale it's probably fairly smooth).
« Last Edit: 30/10/2014 04:47:38 by chiralSPO »


Online evan_au

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • 4318
    • View Profile
Is it possible that atoms evolved?
Evolution (in the sense that Darwin meant it) involves:
  • Reproduction: the copying and duplication process that is a characteristic of life. This is described in more detail below.
  • A source of variation: The copying is not always exact, and so variants can appear, which might be fitter than the parent
  • A pressure from natural selection: The more successful variants will reproduce more often than the unfit variants. 

Atoms can't evolve because:
  • Atoms aren't alive since they can't reproduce (see below);
  • there are not enough bits of storage in an atom to allow a wide range of variation between atoms (see below)
  • Stable atoms don't change, and so they aren't subject to the pressures of natural selection.
  • Unstable atoms do change, but they don't produce something like the parent atom, so they aren't subject to the pressures of natural selection.
Characteristics of Life
Some of the characteristics of "life as we know it" is that the life form must be able to absorb energy from a source, get rid of the inevitable waste, grow and reproduce. This requires sufficient information to be copied so that the descendants of the original life form also are able to carry out all these steps.

It is true that atoms can store some information in its atomic structure, such as the orbitals of electrons. But the available information storage is very small (just a few bits); perhaps a few more bits could be stored in the nucleus of an atom. However:
  • this information will be scrambled as soon as the atom absorbs or emits a photon.
  • this information is not enough to create a whole new atom
  • the atom does not contain the machinery to read out this information
  • the atom does not contain the machinery required to build a new atom based on the stored information 
  • unstable atoms do break into two (or more) pieces called "daughter nuclei" - but unlike "daughter cells", these nuclei are not like the parent atom, and do not contain the information and machinery required to create the parent atom or the daughter nuclei.

So, from an information-theory basis, I would have to say that an atom is not alive:
  • Even a virus (consisting of perhaps 600,000 atoms) is not considered to be alive. A virus does contain some information storage in the form of RNA or DNA, but not the machinery to copy the instructions, or the machinery to produce another virus.
  • A bacterium (consisting of > 100,000,000,000 atoms) meets the above criteria for life. It has a lot of information storage in the form of DNA, is able to read and copy the DNA, and is able to synthesise all of the proteins in the cell based on these instructions from raw materials available in the environment. It is able to consume its raw materials and energy from the environment, grow and dispose of wastes.
  • Some people suggest that if you include the copying machinery that is in it's host cell, you could consider a virus to be alive - but then you are talking about a system that is at least as large as a bacterium anyway.
« Last Edit: 31/10/2014 10:22:23 by evan_au »


Offline yor_on

  • Naked Science Forum GOD!
  • *******
  • 12350
  • (Ah, yes:) *a table is always good to hide under*
    • View Profile
maybe they invented us to have a place to dwell while doing their own cool stuff, whatever that may be?
ahem :)
"BOMB DISPOSAL EXPERT. If you see me running, try to keep up."