April 1944 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Anyone who pays attention in present-day high school physics class
would read this article from 1944 and immediately appreciate the
advances that have been made in atomic theory during the ensuing
70 years. Even with modern knowledge, it is hard to believe that
even in 1944 someone would seriously suggest that perhaps theorized
sub-electronic particles (building blocks
of electrons) might be responsible for supporting the propagation
of electromagnetic energy. We still consider the electron to be
an elementary particle (although now the
proton and neutron are not), but at this point we are aware
of many elementary particles other than the electron
(some which make up protons and neutrons):
six types of quarks, gluon, photon, three types of bosons
(including the newfound Higgs), and
five other types of leptons other than the electron
(the electron is a lepton) - for a
total of 17. The author's 'enormous' characteristic of the electron,
rather than being due to hosting a cloud of its own sub-electronic
particles while in an 'Earth-moon' orbit relationship, can be made
true by modernizing the concept with the quantum mechanical electron
cloud orbital model whereby there is a vanishingly small probability
that an electron associated with a given atom instantaneously occupies
a point anywhere in the universe.
The Enormous Electron
Existence of sub-electronic particles has long been suspected,
and their discovery may open another world to our atomic
"There once was a tiny electron, who looked all about him and
'What an infinite thing is an atom! How long and how deep and
The science of physics, which successfully maintained the atom
for so many years - against all opposition - as the world's smallest
entity, was forced from its position, and today would not even insist
that the electron is the infinite in smallness. Official science
has been reduced to a position where an atom, comparatively speaking,
may be as big as the State of Texas.
More than ten years ago, Sir Joseph J. Thompson, the pioneer
scientist who originally hunted the electron to its lair, declared
his belief that space might be permeated with "granules" the substance
of which make up the aggregates of matter and of electricity.
These particles must be indeed small if, as Sir Joseph believed,
they are at least 3,300,000,000 times smaller than the nimble electrons.
The artist has pictured, above, the dome of the Capitol at Washington,
and a thimble held up against it. The discrepancy in cubic contents
is even less than one of three billion.
The atoms of hydrogen, scientists now tell us, after viewing
a few photographic scratches, are so small that a hundred million
of them, if they ever became tired, could sit down side by side
in a single inch.
Yet each atom of hydrogen is supposed to be an Earth-Moon system,
in which a tiny moon (the electron) is revolving millions of times
a second around an almost invisible Earth - the nucleus, 1800 times
as heavy as the electron, but smaller in bulk.
However, the more the atom-electron theory was refined, the more
unsatisfactory it became to explain, for instance, the peculiar
actions of matter in presence of light. Instead of acting like a
dignified moon, the electron is continually skipping around from
orbit to orbit. It changes by fits and jerks. Evidently some other
force, too small to be perceived by our instruments (which can just
about see the shock of a violently propelled electron against the
matter it strikes), is acting in infra-atomic space. If will be
remembered that a similar agitation of small particles of matter,
(the so-called Brownian movement) helped to establish the atomic
theory of matter.
This is one of the reasons why the father of the electron expressed
as the conviction of years' study that, compared to the particles
beneath them in size, electrons are gigantic.
"We have no right whatever to maintain doggedly that we have
reached the ultimate in infinitesimal material systems when we deal
with. these familiar material units. Experience should quickly teach
us how unsafe such an assumption would be," says Professor Harlow
Shapley, the astronomer in Flights from Chaos. "But, in a hypothetical
sub-electronic world, where there may be systems within systems
indefinitely, our course-grained tools no longer bring information
to our coarse-grained minds. It may be that we are stopped in our
explorations downward, not because the limit is reached but because
of our inherent awkwardness."
Perhaps it is true that 'the "granule," so infinitesimally smaller
than the atom, is itself a cosmic system of inconceivable complexity;
as the entire "cosmos" we see may be a single breath exhaled by
an extra-cosmic being. It is quite probable that the "granule" may
be established as a fact, by reasoning; though far too small ever
to manifest its individual presence upon any instrument which man
It is not impossible to surmise, even though Sir Joseph is not
quoted so far, that these granules may take the place of the hypothetical
ether as the medium through which are translated electromagnetic
impulses which we call light and its allied phenomena. If this be
the case, and we are to assume that they act as does a gas, their
motion is even swifter than that of light, set up by their "rarefaction"
Posted September 2, 2014