Particle Physics


What Does an Atom Look Like?

You’ve probably seen the classic Bohr’s model of an atom—with with electrons whizzing around a cluster of protons and neutrons—everywhere from science textbooks to the logo for The Big Bang Theory. While this schematic is often useful, the true picture of an atom is much stranger.

For one, 99.999999999999999% of the atom is empty space. If you could blow up a hydrogen atom to one trillion times its size, the nucleus would be the size of a grain of sand and the entire atom would be the size of a football stadium.

Stranger yet, an atom’s protons, neutrons, and electrons all live in quantum clouds—where you can only ever know where they’ll be with some probability. In this episode, we explore what an atom really looks like.

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Greg Kestin

    Greg Kestin holds a faculty position at Harvard University, where he conducts theoretical physics research, teaches, and produces educational online content. He earned his physics Ph.D. from Harvard, as a member of The Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature, focusing on theoretical particle physics and quantum field theory. Over his career, he has also conducted research in nuclear physics, fusion energy, and gravitational wave physics. For over a decade he has been involved with innovative educational outreach endeavors, bringing science to both students and members of the public through his writings, videos, lectures, and multimedia.

    Samia Bouzid

    Samia Bouzid is a multimedia storyteller with a passion for science, especially physics. She is a production assistant for NOVA’s YouTube series “What the Physics?!”