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Facts about Electrons for Kids

An electron has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle. The antiparticle of the electron is called the positron; it is identical to the electron except that it carries electrical and other charges of the opposite sign.

  • When an electron collides with a positron, both particles may be totally annihilated, producing gamma ray photons.
  • Electrons, which belong to the first generation of the lepton particle family, participate in gravitational, electromagnetic and weak interactions.
  • Like all matter, they have quantum mechanical properties of both particles and waves, so they can collide with other particles and can be diffracted like light.
  • However, this duality is best demonstrated in experiments with electrons, due to their tiny mass.
  • The concept of an indivisible quantity of electric charge was theorized to explain the chemical properties of atoms, beginning in 1838 by British natural philosopher Richard Laming; the name electron was introduced for this charge in 1894 by Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney.
  • The attractive Coulomb force between an electron and a proton causes electrons to be bound into atoms.
  • According to theory, most electrons in the universe were created in the big bang, but they may also be created through beta decay of radioactive isotopes and in high-energy collisions, for instance when cosmic rays enter the atmosphere.
  • Electrons have many applications, including welding, cathode ray tubes, electron microscopes, radiation therapy, lasers and particle accelerators.
  • Between 1838 and 1851, British natural philosopher Richard Laming developed the idea that an atom is composed of a core of matter surrounded by subatomic particles that had unit electric charges.
  • He then showed that the luminescence rays appearing within the tube carried energy and moved from the cathode to the anode.
  • Furthermore, by applying a magnetic field, he was able to deflect the rays, thereby demonstrating that the beam behaved as though it were negatively charged.
  • He further showed that the negatively charged particles produced by radioactive materials, by heated materials and by illuminated materials were universal.
  • The electron’s charge was more carefully measured by the American physicists Robert Millikan and Harvey Fletcher in their oil-drop experiment of 1909, the results of which were published in 1911.
  • In 1913, Danish physicist Niels Bohr postulated that electrons resided in quantized energy states, with the energy determined by the angular momentum of the electron’s orbits about the nucleus.
  • In 1925, Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck suggested that an electron, in addition to the angular momentum of its orbit, possesses an intrinsic angular momentum and magnetic dipole moment.
  • The intrinsic angular momentum became known as spin, and explained the previously mysterious splitting of spectral lines observed with a high-resolution spectrograph; this phenomenon is known as fine structure splitting.
  • In the Standard Model of particle physics, electrons belong to the group of subatomic particles called leptons, which are believed to be fundamental or elementary particles.
  • Physicists believe that empty space may be continually creating pairs of virtual particles, such as a positron and electron, which rapidly annihilate each other shortly thereafter.
  • The acceleration from this curving motion induces the electron to radiate energy in the form of synchrotron radiation.
  • If the electron and positron have negligible momentum, a positronium atom can form before annihilation results in two or three gamma ray photons totalling 1.022 MeV.
  • This welding technique must be performed in a vacuum, so that the electron beam does not interact with the gas prior to reaching the target, and it can be used to join conductive materials that would otherwise be considered unsuitable for welding.