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The New Quantum Universe, Second Edition by Patrick Walters, Tony Hey

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4 Atoms and nuclei

Atoms are completely impossible from the classical point of view.

Richard Feynman

Rutherford’s nuclear atom

Before quantum mechanics came along, classical physics was unable to account for either the size or the stability of atoms. Experiments initiated in 1911 by the famous New Zealand physicist, Ernest Rutherford, had shown that nearly all the mass and all of the positive charge of an atom are concentrated in a tiny central core that Rutherford called the ‘nucleus’. Most of the atom is empty space! A table of the relative sizes of atoms, nuclei and other quantum and classical objects is given in appendix 1. Rutherford had already won a Nobel Prize earlier, in 1908, for his work on radioactivity. Radioactivity is now known to ...

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