animation by Winston Wolff
I want to show you a very interesting web animation of an electron. But first let me explain something about the structure of the electron. Then when you are finished reading, observe the animation on the side.
Never in history has anyone been able to even imagine the structure of an electron. Until very recently, the electron was thought to be a 'point' made of an unknown, undefineable substance called 'charge'. Since a point has no dimensions, there is no structure and nothing to see.
Recently this structure was found (see: A Wave Structure for the Electron) to be two concentric spherical moving quantum waves. One wave moves inward and one wave moves outward. This spherical wave pair has the familiar properties of an electron which we call mass and charge, as well as all other properties. The illustration on the side the radial amplitude of these electron waves moving on your screen. (Sometimes the illustration takes a moment to load and start.)
These diagrams are mathematical plots of the in and out waves and the sum of both waves. The plots are the amplitudes of the waves drawn along a radius out from the electron center (at the left side). You will see that the farther from the center, the smaller the amplitudes become. This is like familiar sound or light waves or even water waves which become weaker as they move outward. Quantum waves are very tiny. In this diagram they are amplified a hundred, million, million times (10 14). You have to imagine them smaller - but that is not difficult.
Notice the behavior of the sum wave when the radius is near zero. The amplitude of the wave is not infinite at zero radius. Instead you notice it reaches a size of about + or - one inch on the screen. This is an important difference between the wave structure theory compared to the old point theory of the electron. In the point theory, electric amplitudes became infinite at zero radius. This is wrong because laboratory measurements show finite amplitudes. The wave structure, as shown here, gives the right result.
For many (too many) years people imagined atoms as point electrons orbiting around a nucleus. This myth, obviously imitating our planetary system, was shown wrong by quantum theory more than sixty years ago. For example in the hydrogen atom, quantum theory predicts the electron presence as a symmetrical spherical cloud around the proton. Some physicists concluded that the point bits of matter were still there, even though quantum theory contains no notion of point particles. The old myth dies hard!
Actually, in the H atom both the electron wave-structure and the proton have the same center. The electron's structure can be imagined like an onion - spherical layers of waves around a center. The amplitude of the waves decreases like the blue standing wave in the bottom diagram. There are no point masses - no orbits, just waves.
This diagram is the first animation of a basic particle for viewers on the web. Is this Important? Or just a neat gimmick to make fuzzy physics come to life? Yes! It illustrates a newly recognized essential property of a particle - communication. In order for particles to interact with each other, it is essential they communicate their position, direction, and presence to each other. The dynamic wave-structured electron can do this. The old static point particle cannot. It is wrong. Understanding properties of the particles by animation will have a high priority in the future.
This animation was produced by my son Winston. You can see that his work making Star Wars video games like "Dark Forces" of recent best-seller fame, has scientific application. Thus I am doubly proud that he was able to program it and put it on this web page. It required a lot of planning and skill. I am very grateful for his innovative help in making this science page for you. You can see his latest project in New York City, Stratolab, writing educational software and giving after-school courses on video game programming.