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Electrostatic Glue

There are children playing in the street who could solve some of my top problems in physics because they have modes of sensory perception that I lost long ago.

~Robert Oppenheimer


Question: Why don’t things fall apart?

Observation, visualization, imagination, and speculation, linked to telescopes, spectrophotometers, scanning tunneling microscopes, and the whole field of microscopy have become a primary means of ascertaining and probing the world around us. Using a spectrum of these tools, scientists, artists, philosophers, and mystics have brought the world into being with a vast array of theories, which are both constructive and reflective of our humanity.


Spectrophotometers are devices used to measure the wavelength of light that is created by atoms emitting and absorbing electromagnetic radiation.


Systems of thought and ways of seeing help construct, influence, and determine future paths of thought and cultural expression. The use of statistical analysis to test the hypothesis and determine repeatable probabilities is currently one preeminent system. Still, the evolution of our understanding of the universe is related to the means by which we probe and describe the world. Tools and language have limits and inherent distortions, and we should not assume we have discovered all modes of collecting, analyzing, and knowing.

The visualization of the atom discussed in this chapter is just one example of the evolution of knowledge through hypothesis, visualization, and experimentation. Science, art, and knowledge will continue to evolve our notions of what the atom is as we add new tools and systems of analysis.



Fresh-water Bamboo shrimp (Atyopsis moluccensis) by Adrian Fernandez. 2008.


With these processes, we have discovered that all of the matter in our complex living and the non-living universe is composed of 94 naturally occurring elements, which are all bound together with electrostatic glue.


Elements, composed of atoms, are the building block of this material world and can be defined as solids, gasses, liquids, and plasma composed of a single kind of atom. Examples would be lithium, carbon, helium, and copper--when they are refined through industrial processes into their pure states


Electrostatic glue refers to the electrostatic bonding that occurs within an atom or between two or more atoms, caused by the attraction between positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons.


Even more spectacular is that 99% of all living organisms are composed of primarily four of these elements: hydrogen (H), carbon (C), oxygen (O), and nitrogen (N). It is the special properties of these elements, combined with electrostatic forces that make them suitable for life. [1]



Small Lizard by William Ospina. 2008.


It is a complex mix of elements that become compounds, and these constitute our bodies, brains, cars, computers, and all else around us. Now, if we can imagine humans, fish, insects, reptiles, plants, bacteria, viruses, and earth all symbiotically intertwined, the elements and compounds combining into an integrated living mesh are a spectacular feat of biological evolution and electrostatic chance.


Compounds are materials composed of mixtures of many kinds of atoms.


It is the arrangements of atoms that determine the states of matter and a few dozen of the most common atoms combine in infinite ways into solids, gasses, and liquids. A group of atoms is a molecule and molecules can consist of many kinds of different atoms, or one kind of atom in larger quantities.