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The Electron

Episode 1 of 5

15 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 08 September 2008

Simon Singh examines the significance of five subatomic particles in five programmes In the first programme he tells the story of the discovery of the electron.

Just over a century ago, British physicist J.J. Thomson experimenting with electric currents and charged particles inside empty glass tubes, showed that atoms are divisible into indivisible elementary particles. But how could atoms be built up of these so called "corpuscles"? An exciting 30 year race ensued, to grasp the planetary model of the atom with its orbiting electrons, and the view inside the atom was born. Whilst the number of electrons around the nucleus of an atom determines the chemistry of all elements, the power of electrons themselves has been harnessed for everyday use: electron beams for welding,cathode ray tubes and radiation therapy.

Producer Adrian Washbourne.


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