What are Atoms?

Everything is made of atoms. Even you and I are made of atoms. Atoms are the building blocks of the universe. They are very, very tiny particles. Their size is very hard to imagine.

An atom is best described by thinking of the sun with the planets spinning around it. The centre is called the nucleus. It is made of tiny particles called protons and neutrons. Electrons circle around the nucleus in clouds, or shells, far from the nucleus. When an atom is in balance, it has the same number of protons and electrons. It can have a different number of neutrons. Electrons stay in their shells because a special force holds them there. Protons and electrons are attracted to each other. We say protons have a positive charge (+) and the electrons have a negative charge (-). Opposite charges attract each other.


Have you ever combed your hair and had it follow the comb or have you ever rubbed a balloon over your head and have your hair stand straight up on your head? If so, you rubbed electrons off the comb or balloon. The electrons moved into your hair from the comb or balloon. They tried to get far away from each other. They moved to the ends of your hair. They pushed against each other and made your hair move - they repelled each other or pushed each other away.

The electrons near the nucleus are held tight to the atom while sometimes the ones further out are not. These electrons can be made to move out of their orbits. Moving electrons create electricity.


Electricity is not new and not just man made. Lightning is electricity. It is electrons moving from one cloud or moving between the clouds and the ground. Have you ever felt a shock after walking across the carpet or jumping off a trampoline? A bunch of electrons jumped to you from another object. This kind of electricity is called static electricity. Electrons aren't moving through a wire, they are jumping from one object to another.

If you have a dishwasher in the office kitchen, the electric hot water system under the bench could be switched off - saving 1-2 kg CO2 per day from the hot water tank's heat loss and putting you well ahead energy wise.
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