If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food, either. Joseph Wood Krutch

Friday, March 28, 2008

The mighty electron

Below is a question and answer found on www.physlink.com  Unless you are a math dweeb, or a glutton for punishment, I suggest reading only the question and the bold highlight. The rest is relatively irrelevant to the rest of my post. But in the interest of putting lots of huge numbers on my site (huge numbers are cool) I put the rest in too.

If an electron were increased to the size of an apple, how big, proportionately, would a human being be?

Asked by: Lou Spadaccini


Well, the classical radius of an electron (this is the 'electo-magnetic field' type of radius - nobody has actually measured the exact radius of an electron.) is about 2.82 x 10-15 m. An average size of an apple is about 4 cm or 0.04 m in radius (at least the apples I just got today from the supermarket:-).

So the scaling factor is just: radius of the apple / radius of the electron which is: 4 x 10-2 m / 2.82 x 10-15 m = 1.42 x 1013

This means that in the universe where the electron is as big as an apple in ours everything will be bigger by a factor of 1.42 x 1013 or 14,200,000,000,000 (fourteen trillion and two hundred billion times bigger.)

So now you can calculate how big would the human be: for example I am 6 ft (1.83 m) tall so in your apple-sized-electron universe I would be: 1.83 m x 1.42 x 1013 = 2.6 x 1013 m tall! Just to give you an idea how tall I would be: it would take light a full day to travel from my toes to my nose! (and it only takes about 8 minutes for light to travel from the Sun to the Earth.) Also, I would be about 3.5 times taller than the diameter of our Solar System (farthest reaches of the Pluto orbit are at about 7.37 x 1012 m.)

Answered by: Anton Skorucak, M.S. Physics, PhysLink.com Creator

As I was leaving the movie theatre last night I suddenly noticed that all around me were electronic devices. They were on the wall, on the ceiling, inside the projection room, in the lobby, by the front door, outside the theatre, behind the ticket booth glass, on the walls of banks, in peoples hands...everywhere! It was then I suddenly realized that the harnessing of something none of us will ever see, the electron, has completely transformed our world.

Forget about the harnessing of fossil fuel energy for cars.  When the fuel runs out, the cars will disappear anyhow,horses will begin to sell for a premium ,horse thieves will take the place of car thieves and those things they stick down the window to get in your car will start going cheap on e-bay. 

No, it is the way we have harnessed the electron that has changed our world. And these little buggers can do everything. Cameras, computers,ATM's,scanners, infra-red sensors, weather detectors, alien life form detectors (yes, that's true...sort of). Well, there I go with a list again. Just make a mental list. Every word I type uses electrons and I should probably conserve.

Now before you swear off electrons altogether, or set up a website devoted to their conservation, I should point out that it is not the electron that is the problem.  It is the harnesses we build. Chips! Gazillions and gazillions of chips containing transistors, capacitors, resistors and many other things most of us just don't really understand. We attach these chips to hunks of metal and bits of plastic, and as long as the TV turns on when we push the button all is well with the world right?.  Well, not exactly.

I could go on a while longer about this but, just follow the links below for a refresher course on e-waste and what harnessing all those mighty, yet oh so tiny, electrons is doing to our world. Worse yet, electron harnesses are made mostly of purified silica sand, with a few other metals attached. And unlike our depleting supply of oil, we have tons of sand and no end in sight for making these things.  Of course, we may need to get them to market in buggies, but that's a topic for another post.

E-Waste...it's our problem

E-waste Video

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