What is the size of an atom? Can we see it?

Your favorite cookie is made up of different ingredients, and each ingredient considered as a matter is formed of a collection of various atoms. You can see a cookie, its color, shape, and other visible components like nuts, raisins, or chocolates. However, you cannot see the atoms in it.

It’s impossible to see an atom with just the naked eyes because it is far too small with a diameter of just 0.00000001 millimeter. To put in comparison, an atom is too small that a strand of hair is about 500 000 wider an atom.

A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, and it needs three atoms to fit in one nanometer. Imagine how small the pinhead’s disk is, but about 10 trillion atoms can fit its size. So, there’s no way one can see atoms with a bare eye or even with an ordinary microscope.

Nevertheless, it is still possible to see them using an electron microscope. One most advanced microscope was unveiled at the UK’s national SuperSTEM facility, the Nion Hermes Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funds the SuperSTEM, which says that there are only three of this kind of microscope in the world, so it is costly, about a £3.7 million ($5.5 million). An object million times smaller than the human hair can be seen through this microscope.

The electron microscope has a fine needle with a tip made up of a single atom. This sharp, pointed tip scans the atoms’ surface, which has electrons in various orbits.

What is an atom?

illustration of atoms with their glowing orbit-like motion

Atoms are the basic building blocks or the foundation of chemistry. Atoms are tiny, but they can join together to form molecules, which in turn form most of the objects around. Most atoms are empty space. But some consist of a positively charged nucleus of protons and neutrons surrounded by negatively charged electrons.

Who discovered the atoms?

Almost 2500 years ago, Democritus, a Greek philosopher, wondered what would happen if you cut a piece of matter, such as an apple, into smaller and smaller pieces. He thought that there eventually would come to a point where you could no longer divide or cut a matter. So, he called the indestructible, indivisible matter as the “atomos.” Democritus then made his theory and named it the theory of the universe: He theorized that all matters consist of atoms, which are bits of matter too small to be seen. Each atom (of a different substance) has different size, weight, and shape from another.

After Democritus, other scientists pursued studying atoms. John Dalton was the first to adapt Democritus’ theory and had his first modern atomic model. During the 1890s, J.J Thomson was a physicist credited for discovering the electron by his research on cathode ray tube technology in this discovery.

Did you know that there are 94 different kinds of atoms that can be found in nature? The scientists added 24 new kinds of atoms that make a total of 118 different atoms that we are now known as the elements with equivalent symbols in the Periodic Table of Elements.

Why is there a need to study the smallest things like atoms?

Why would you interest in seeing something in that much detail? Everything around you – the things you see, smell, hold, and you stepped on- is made up of atoms. Therefore, it is also important that atoms play a crucial role in our daily lives, inside and even outside the planet we live in.

Another critical reason why studying this unseen tiniest stuff is significant because we’re always trying to create miniaturize devices. We hand everything to be handy and easy to use, which implies that creating miniaturize parts like transistors and semiconductors is also needed.

Did you know that?…

You are 99 percent made up of different kinds of atoms: 1 percent phosphorus, 1.5 percent calcium, 3 percent nitrogen, 10 percent hydrogen, 18 percent carbon, and 65 percent oxygen. However, within a year, almost all of the atoms that comprise you will be changed entirely and replaced with new atoms. How? We bring atoms into our bodies when we eat, drink, and inhale, while we lose atoms when we exercise, sweat, urinate, exhale, or go to the toilet.

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