Queries and complex questions such that of the above have long been posted and asked by almost everyone. The quest for its answer has been a war for individuals and institutions whose expertise are its study or for some reason, has relation to the nature of their work. Infinite and various answers to the question above are so quickly discovered in a modern setting that is so fast-paced, ever growing and ever developing. Every aspect of life has its own unique proposed solutions and answers to the problem posted.
But what really is the smallest thing? The usual initial response of a typical man-on-the-street would be mainly based on what he perceives or what he has gathered thru his education or experience. The typical answer probably would be the Atom. The science world over the years, have extended all possible efforts in solving this question of what is the smallest thing, as well as the study of atoms. The discipline have unearthed the ideas of atom as early as 6th century and developed the same alongside with the study of Chemistry. Through time, with the development and through the evolving process of branching out to various sciences’ disciplines, it is interesting to note that answers to the question can now be found through different means and various claims made through rigorous studies. Not so distantly, it was perceived that the smallest thing is, according to a recent report of Time Magazine, is the Neutron. The report tells that the neutron is considered as a thing or particle which comprises an atom. As a subatomic particle, the neutron, has been found out be lighter in weight than other atomic particle such as the proton. Science experts also declared that the neutron has no electric charge. Together with the proton, the number of neutron in an atomic nucleus, which together usually comprises an atom, determines the type of element that the atom forms.
Moreover, because of the neutron’s undetectable charge, experts say that it is hard to find. They further agreed that there can be no residues of electrically charged particles found on the neutron even after undergoing the process of passing through a gas. Scientist also declared that neutrons have a high penetrating power for it moves solely without being repelled by atoms that are charged. This nature of neutrons of being able to shoot through large distances makes it not only the smallest thing, but also ranks as one of the dangerous things as neutrons play an important part in nuclear reactions. Activation of such of these “smallest thing” induces radioactivity. Through “fissioning” (a process of breaking down neutrons with other particles into fragments) with the elements uranium and plutonium, the importance of the development of nuclear weapons and reactors is realized.
One way or the other, these things that are considered the smallest things, are also very useful in ordinary everyday lives. With neutron radiation, functions of the X-rays are completely met since neutrons are also sensitive to magnetism; it can penetrate deep into a matter and has a wide range spectroscopic abilities.
Through the discussion above, it has presented that neutrons can be broken down or can undergo such scientific processes that fragmentizes the same. This brings to the question in quest of a smaller or to the extent, even the smallest. The speculation on the possibility of knowing components that usually make up a neutron now comes into place.
As many branches of physics emerge in trying to find a possible end and solution to our question. The follow-up question would be is there any such thing? How small is it and are there any other theoretical questions underlying it? Currently, physicists have identified the presence of “Quarks”. According to experts, a matter particle has many types. And as every matter that we see is composed of protons and neutrons and it is the quark that comprises neutron.
Studies that we learned from school say that an atom has components: proton, neutron and the electron. Physicists say that there are six quarks and usually identifies them in pairs. These quark pairs are the up, charm and bottom. It is also noted that there is a corresponding antiquark for each. Unlike the proton and electron which has a charge of +1 and -1 respectively, quarks have a fractional electric charge identified as colored charge. The first quark that was discovered was the top quark. It was introduced in 1995 after 20 years of expert studies.
On how “small” is a quark is the next query. Scientists and experts in the study have often stated that these quarks are so small that we cannot see them. It is so small that scientists sometimes are uncertain the position and movement of these quarks. The unit of measurement being used in the study of these is the “Planck Length”. This unit of measurement is developed by Max Planck in measuring time and mass involved in complex physics equations. This measurement unit was earlier established than quantum mechanics and general relativity. In simplified common man’s term, a Planck Length is a decimal, followed by 32 zeros and a 1 in the end. And not unless the experts show or demonstrate a considerable amount of substantial evidence or evidences on the certainty in the position and movements of these quarks, seeing these “smallest” things in the naked eye remains impossible.
Various theories have emerged in the quest of what really composes the earth. A question that correlates to and is broken down as to what are these things that are so small that comprises the earth. An example of a theory is the Super String Theory. In its website, superstringtheory.com, it explicitly says that the Super String theory emanates from particles, which they call “strings”. Additionally, these complex particles are invisible and that there are these “strings” are the ones that tie up the quarks. It is believed that these strings form the fundamental building block of nature. Said theory is a branch of theoretical physics. It combines general relativity and quantum mechanics. Modern day physicists call it the Theory of Everything since the same can give a structure in unifying the forces of nature. Currently, the said theory is now feared of being left in the science history books as complexities, lack of evidences and interest on the part of the physicists have lessened which is totally the opposite when it was first introduced in 1984.
Physics has its own principle of establishing the smallest thing. It is through Quantum Mechanics that the study of the smallest things in the universe is being undertaken. This discipline under physics has various underlying principles that a common man should deeply comprehend first before fully understanding these processes, such as time and space. To some, they argued that quantum physicists tend to measure the smallest and define the indefinable.
More importantly, it is also interesting to note that although the quest in finding out what the smallest thing is narrowing, the process in finding out the possible solutions does not cease. As modern technology develops and advances, complex challenges are being formed in the minds of the experts and of the scientists. In the aspect of Science alone, a simple question such as that of the topic enhances men’s ability to go beyond what is simply inside his mind, and pursue to answer the ideal question through a more logical explanation.
Some fields also have their own idea of what is the smallest thing. A current example is the emergence of “Nanotechnology”. According to sources, it is the “smallest big thing”. It promises to further improve our daily lives. With the help of expert scientists, atoms are used to create products by manipulating them, thus making the product a more “suitable” one to use. Atoms in nanotechnology are molecularly manipulated so products come out much stronger and better than the old and usual one which is just processed thru the manipulation of raw materials.
Financial and business analysts tells that nanotechnology will be the next big business as some of the private sectors in the United States have started incorporating the said technology in its pharmaceutical, energy, cosmetics, electronic industries. The US government, as early as 2004, have allocated a large amount of its budget for the development of nanotechnology. But just like any new scientific method being introduced and developed, nanotechnology has its adverse effects. There are some issues on the harsh effects of the processing of these nanotechnology atoms, as they may affect the health of those who are involved in the process of atom manipulation. It also poses a threat of ever having to develop the technology to be used in weaponry.
As can be gleamed from the above explanations and discussions, the question of what is the smallest thing is still left unanswered even up to this very moment. It is only up to man himself whether he commences, abruptly stop or simply be contented to what he has already done for mankind in trying to find an answer to the simple to complex questions such as what is really is the smallest thing?
But then undoubtedly, as long as the rational man is alive and his brain is functioning rationally, the ideas, questions and answers are expected to come out. No one would know that these products of the mind maybe the next breakthroughs or, to the extent, the end of all things, even to the smallest.