Jon Bergmann
6,998,924 views • 5:27

You probably already know everything is made up of little tiny things called atoms or even that each atom is made up of even smaller particles called protons, neutrons and electrons. And you've probably heard that atoms are small. But I bet you haven't ever thought about how small atoms really are. Well, the answer is that they are really, really small. So you ask, just how small are atoms? To understand this, let's ask this question: How many atoms are in a grapefruit? Well, let's assume that the grapefruit is made up of only nitrogen atoms, which isn't at all true, but there are nitrogen atoms in a grapefruit. To help you visualize this, let's blow up each of the atoms to the size of a blueberry. And then how big would the grapefruit have to be? It would have to be the same size of — well, actually, the Earth. That's crazy! You mean to say that if I filled the Earth with blueberries, I would have the same number of nitrogen atoms as a grapefruit? That's right! So how big is the atom? Well, it's really, really small! And you know what? It gets even more crazy. Let's now look inside of each atom — and thus the blueberry, right? — What do you see there? In the center of the atom is something called the nucleus, which contains protons and neutrons, and on the outside, you'd see electrons. So how big is the nucleus? If atoms are like blueberries in the Earth, how big would the nucleus be? You might remember the old pictures of the atom from science class, where you saw this tiny dot on the page with an arrow pointing to the nucleus. Well, those pictures, they're not drawn to scale, so they're kind of wrong. So how big is the nucleus? So if you popped open the blueberry and were searching for the nucleus ... You know what? It would be invisible. It's too small to see! OK. Let's blow up the atom — the blueberry — to the size of a house. So imagine a ball that is as tall as a two-story house. Let's look for the nucleus in the center of the atom. And do you know what? It would just barely be visible. So to get our minds wrapped around how big the nucleus is, we need to blow up the blueberry, up to the size of a football stadium. So imagine a ball the size of a football stadium, and right smack dab in the center of the atom, you would find the nucleus, and you could see it! And it would be the size of a small marble. And there's more, if I haven't blown your mind by now. Let's consider the atom some more. It contains protons, neutrons and electrons. The protons and neutrons live inside of the nucleus, and contain almost all of the mass of the atom. Way on the edge are the electrons. So if an atom is like a ball the size of a football stadium, with the nucleus in the center, and the electrons on the edge, what is in between the nucleus and the electrons? Surprisingly, the answer is empty space. (Wind noise) That's right. Empty! Between the nucleus and the electrons, there are vast regions of empty space. Now, technically there are some electromagnetic fields, but in terms of stuff, matter, it is empty. Remember this vast region of empty space is inside the blueberry, which is inside the Earth, which really are the atoms in the grapefruit. OK, one more thing, if I can even get more bizarre. Since virtually all the mass of an atom is in the nucleus — now, there is some amount of mass in the electrons, but most of it is in the nucleus — how dense is the nucleus? Well, the answer is crazy. The density of a typical nucleus is four times 10 to the 17th kilograms per meter cubed. But that's hard to visualize. OK, I'll put it in English units. 2.5 times 10 to the 16th pounds per cubic feet. OK, that's still kind of hard to figure. OK, here's what I want you to do. Make a box that is one foot by one foot by one foot. Now let's go and grab all of the nuclei from a typical car. Now, cars on average weigh two tons. How many cars' nuclei would you have to put into the box to have your one-foot-box have the same density of the nucleus? Is it one car? Two? How about 100? Nope, nope and nope. The answer is much bigger. It is 6.2 billion. That is almost equal to the number of people in the Earth. So if everyone in the Earth owned their own car — and they don't — (Cars honking) and we put all of those cars into your box ... That would be about the density of a nucleus. So I'm saying that if you took every car in the world and put it into your one-foot box, you would have the density of one nucleus. OK, let's review. The atom is really, really, really small. Think atoms in a grapefruit like blueberries in the Earth. The nucleus is crazy small. Now look inside the blueberry, and blow it up to the size of a football stadium, and now the nucleus is a marble in the middle. The atom is made up of vast regions of empty space. That's weird. The nucleus has a crazy-high density. Think of putting all those cars in your one-foot box. I think I'm tired.