Header 1

Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Saturday, November 2, 2013

God's Marching Orders to the Subatomic Particles

The following story is designed to teach some physics in an entertaining manner. A little artistic license has been taken to make the story more enjoyable to read. Although the story is not meant to be 100% literally accurate, it is essentially correct in its description of the forces between particles and the laws of motion. You can follow the hyperlinks to see which aspects of nature are being discussed.

About fourteen billion years ago God got together the newly created subatomic particles and gave them an orientation lecture.

“OK, guys, listen up, because I'm only gonna say this stuff one time,” said God. “Welcome to the marvelous thing known as physical existence. I bet you guys are wondering how loose the rules are in this newly created thing known as the Universe. Well, I hate to be a killjoy, but those of you who want to march to your own drummer and go your own freaky funky way are in for a letdown. Each and every one of you will be forced to follow a rigid set of rules.”

“Oh, damn!” said a disappointed individualistic proton.

“First, let's go over some of the laws of motion,” said God. “I want you to follow these laws to the letter. The first law is that, A, if you're just sitting there like a statue, then you got to stay that way until something acts on you to start moving you; and, B, if you do start moving for some reason, you got to stay moving at the same speed unless something acts on you to make you go slower or faster.”

“You mean I can't just randomly go wherever I want whenever I feel like it?” asked a crestfallen electron.

“No, you can't,” said God. “Now the second law of motion is real simple – if something jolts you into moving, the heavier the thing is, and the faster it was moving, the more force it will zap you with if it hits you. Then the third law of motion is pretty much that if some speeding thing jolts you, you move in the opposite direction. ”

“Got it,” said a neutron.

“Now I got to discuss the rules about forces,” said God, “and here's where things get kind of weird. The first force law is the law of gravity. It works like this: each of you will have a 'gravitational' attraction toward all of your other fellow particles. It's what I call an inverse square law, which means the closer you are to some other particle, the more of an attraction there will be.”

“But I thought absence makes the heart grow fonder,” said an electron. “So shouldn't we electrons have more of an attraction towards other electrons that are farther away, which we can't see?”

“No, gravity doesn't work that way,” said God. “It works the other way around.”

“OK,” said the electron.

“Now, the second force law is something that only applies to you electrons and protons,” said God, “so you neutrons can amuse yourselves as you wish while I'm explaining this.”

The neutrons started to play among themselves.

“Electrons, listen up,” said God. “Here's the deal: when another electron is near, you will feel a force that tends to push you apart. But if a proton is near, you will feel a force that tends to push you together. In both cases, it's an inverse square law, so the closer you are to each other, the greater the force will be.”

“That's crazy,” protested an electron. “It should work the other way around. I should be attracted toward my fellow electrons, cute little particles the same size as me, and I should run away from big scary protons that are 1836 times more massive than me.”

“Hey, if you don't like it, go create your own universe,” said God. “Now for you protons, it works like this: when another proton is near, you will feel a force that tends to push you apart. But if an electron is near, you will feel a force that tends to push you together. In both cases, it's an inverse square law, so the closer you are to each other, the greater the force will be.”

“So if I see a proton who looks just like me,” asked a complaining proton, “I'll tend to run away from it, but if I see some teensy measly little electron, I'll tend to rush toward it like it was real important? A fine rule to follow! Sheesh!”

“Don't complain, it will all work out,” said God. “Now you electrons, the next part doesn't apply to you, so you can amuse yourselves as you wish while I'm explaining it. But you neutrons, and you protons, listen up now.”

The electrons started to play among themselves.

“Now there's one last important law,” said God. “This is what I call the strong force law, but I should really just call it the 'hug law.' It works like this. Whenever any of you protons or you neutrons get real close to each other, so close you can smell each other, then you have to hug the hell out of each other. I mean you got to hug each other as strong as you would if you were both made out of glue.”

“Okay, I got it,” said a neutron.

“Oh, I forgot to mention something,” said God. “If a big group of you guys ever concentrate yourself into too small a space, you're gonna get trapped in a dark dense hole that you'll never be able to get out of, so be careful, or you'll be toast.”

“Thanks for the warning,” said a proton.

“Okay, let's get started with this crazy thing we call an expanding universe,” said God. “Hang on tight, because the beginning of this thing is going to be one hell of a ride. After the explosive beginning, it will be real boring for you guys for billions of years, but then things will start to get really interesting. You'll get all tangled up together to make some really fascinating things like mousetraps and ginger snaps.”