Atomic Physics | TNPSC CCSE IV Physics Study Materials

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Atomic Physics | TNPSC CCSE IV Physics Study Materials

Introduction to Atomic Physics TNPSC CCSE IV Study Materials

  • Atomic energy is the source of power for both nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. This energy comes from the splitting (fission) or joining (fusion) of atoms. To understand the source of this energy, one must first understand the atom.
  • Atomic physics, the scientific study of the structure of the atom, its energy states, and its interactions with other particles and with electric and magnetic fields. Atomic physics has proved to be a spectacularly successful application of quantum mechanics, which is one of the cornerstones of modern physics.
  • The notion that matter is made of fundamental building blocks dates to the ancient Greeks, who speculated that earth, air, fire, and water might form the basic elements from which the physical world is constructed. They also developed various schools of thought about the ultimate nature of matter. Perhaps the most remarkable was the atomist school founded by the ancient Greeks Leucippus of Miletus and Democritus of Thrace about 440 bc. For purely philosophical reasons, and without benefit of experimental evidence, they developed the notion that matter consists of indivisible and indestructible atoms. The atoms are in ceaseless motion through the surrounding void and collide with one another like billiard balls, much like the modern kinetic theory of gases. However, the necessity for a void (or vacuum) between the atoms raised new questions that could not be easily answered. For this reason, the atomist picture was rejected by Aristotle and the Athenian school in favour of the notion that matter is continuous. The idea nevertheless persisted, and it reappeared 400 years later in the writings of the Roman poet Lucretius, in his work De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things).
  • Little more was done to advance the idea that matter might be made of tiny particles until the 17th century. The English physicist Isaac Newton, in his Principia Mathematica (1687), proposed that Boyle’s law, which states that the product of the pressure and the volume of a gas is constant at the same temperature, could be explained if one assumes that the gas is composed of particles. In 1808 the English chemist John Dalton suggested that each element consists of identical atoms, and in 1811 the Italian physicist Amedeo Avogadro hypothesized that the particles of elements may consist of two or more atoms stuck together. Avogadro called such conglomerations molecules, and, on the basis of experimental work, he conjectured that the molecules in a gas of hydrogen or oxygen are formed from pairs of atoms.

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