Electron

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The electron is a subatomic particle
Subatomic particle
In physics or chemistry, subatomic particles are the smaller particles composing nucleons and atoms. There are two types of subatomic particles: elementary particles, which are not made of other particles, and composite particles...

 with a negative elementary
Elementary charge
The elementary charge, usually denoted as e, is the electric charge carried by a single proton, or equivalently, the absolute value of the electric charge carried by a single electron. This elementary charge is a fundamental physical constant. To avoid confusion over its sign, e is sometimes called...

 electric charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle
Elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836
Proton-to-electron mass ratio
In physics, the proton-to-electron mass ratio, μ or β, is simply the rest mass of the proton divided by that of the electron...

 that of the proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

. The intrinsic angular momentum
Angular momentum
In physics, angular momentum, moment of momentum, or rotational momentum is a conserved vector quantity that can be used to describe the overall state of a physical system...

 (spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

) of the electron is a half-integer value in units of ħ, which means that it is a fermion
Fermion
In particle physics, a fermion is any particle which obeys the Fermi–Dirac statistics . Fermions contrast with bosons which obey Bose–Einstein statistics....

. The antiparticle
Antiparticle
Corresponding to most kinds of particles, there is an associated antiparticle with the same mass and opposite electric charge. For example, the antiparticle of the electron is the positively charged antielectron, or positron, which is produced naturally in certain types of radioactive decay.The...

 of the electron is called the positron
Positron
The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle or the antimatter counterpart of the electron. The positron has an electric charge of +1e, a spin of ½, and has the same mass as an electron...

; it is identical to the electron except that it carries electrical and other charge
Charge (physics)
In physics, a charge may refer to one of many different quantities, such as the electric charge in electromagnetism or the color charge in quantum chromodynamics. Charges are associated with conserved quantum numbers.-Formal definition:...

s of the opposite sign. When an electron collides with a positron, both particles may either scatter
Bhabha scattering
In quantum electrodynamics, Bhabha scattering is the electron-positron scattering process:There are two leading-order Feynman diagrams contributing to this interaction: an annihilation process and a scattering process. The Bhabha scattering rate is used as a luminosity monitor in electron-positron...

 off each other or be totally annihilated
Annihilation
Annihilation is defined as "total destruction" or "complete obliteration" of an object; having its root in the Latin nihil . A literal translation is "to make into nothing"....

, producing a pair (or more) of gamma ray
Gamma ray
Gamma radiation, also known as gamma rays or hyphenated as gamma-rays and denoted as γ, is electromagnetic radiation of high frequency . Gamma rays are usually naturally produced on Earth by decay of high energy states in atomic nuclei...

 photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

s. Electrons, which belong to the first generation
Generation (particle physics)
In particle physics, a generation is a division of the elementary particles. Between generations, particles differ by their quantum number and mass, but their interactions are identical....

 of the lepton
Lepton
A lepton is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. The best known of all leptons is the electron which governs nearly all of chemistry as it is found in atoms and is directly tied to all chemical properties. Two main classes of leptons exist: charged leptons , and neutral...

 particle family, participate in gravitation
Gravitation
Gravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. Gravitation is most familiar as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped...

al, electromagnetic and weak
Weak interaction
Weak interaction , is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, alongside the strong nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity. It is responsible for the radioactive decay of subatomic particles and initiates the process known as hydrogen fusion in stars...

 interactions
Fundamental interaction
In particle physics, fundamental interactions are the ways that elementary particles interact with one another...

. Electrons, like all matter, have quantum mechanical
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

 properties of both particles and waves
Wave–particle duality
Wave–particle duality postulates that all particles exhibit both wave and particle properties. A central concept of quantum mechanics, this duality addresses the inability of classical concepts like "particle" and "wave" to fully describe the behavior of quantum-scale objects...

, so they can collide with other particles and can be diffracted
Diffraction
Diffraction refers to various phenomena which occur when a wave encounters an obstacle. Italian scientist Francesco Maria Grimaldi coined the word "diffraction" and was the first to record accurate observations of the phenomenon in 1665...

 like light. However, this duality is best demonstrated in experiments with electrons, due to their tiny mass. Since an electron is a fermion, no two electrons can occupy the same quantum state, in accordance with the Pauli exclusion principle
Pauli exclusion principle
The Pauli exclusion principle is the quantum mechanical principle that no two identical fermions may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. A more rigorous statement is that the total wave function for two identical fermions is anti-symmetric with respect to exchange of the particles...

.

The concept of an indivisible quantity of electric charge was theorized to explain the chemical properties
Chemical property
A chemical property is any of a material's properties that becomes evident during a chemical reaction; that is, any quality that can be established only by changing a substance's chemical identity...

 of atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

s, beginning in 1838 by British natural philosopher Richard Laming
Richard Laming
Richard Laming was a British surgeon, natural philosopher, inventor, chemist and industrialist.There is some uncertainty about his origins. It is believed that he was born Margate, England 17 August 1799, the son of James Laming, a packet owner, and Sarah Walton. He had an elder brother James,...

; the name electron was introduced for this charge in 1894 by Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney
George Johnstone Stoney
George Johnstone Stoney was an Irish physicist most famous for introducing the term electron as the "fundamental unit quantity of electricity"....

. The electron was identified as a particle in 1897 by J. J. Thomson
J. J. Thomson
Sir Joseph John "J. J." Thomson, OM, FRS was a British physicist and Nobel laureate. He is credited for the discovery of the electron and of isotopes, and the invention of the mass spectrometer...

 and his team of British physicists.

In many physical phenomena, such as electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

, magnetism
Magnetism
Magnetism is a property of materials that respond at an atomic or subatomic level to an applied magnetic field. Ferromagnetism is the strongest and most familiar type of magnetism. It is responsible for the behavior of permanent magnets, which produce their own persistent magnetic fields, as well...

, and thermal conductivity
Thermal conductivity
In physics, thermal conductivity, k, is the property of a material's ability to conduct heat. It appears primarily in Fourier's Law for heat conduction....

, electrons play an essential role. An electron in motion relative to an observer generates a magnetic field
Magnetic field
A magnetic field is a mathematical description of the magnetic influence of electric currents and magnetic materials. The magnetic field at any given point is specified by both a direction and a magnitude ; as such it is a vector field.Technically, a magnetic field is a pseudo vector;...

, and will be deflected by external magnetic fields. When an electron is accelerated, it can absorb or radiate energy in the form of photons. Electrons, together with atomic nuclei
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 made of proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

s and neutron
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

s, make up atoms. However, electrons contribute less than 0.06% to an atom's total mass. The attractive Coulomb force
Coulomb's law
Coulomb's law or Coulomb's inverse-square law, is a law of physics describing the electrostatic interaction between electrically charged particles. It was first published in 1785 by French physicist Charles Augustin de Coulomb and was essential to the development of the theory of electromagnetism...

 between an electron and a proton causes electrons to be bound
Binding energy
Binding energy is the mechanical energy required to disassemble a whole into separate parts. A bound system typically has a lower potential energy than its constituent parts; this is what keeps the system together—often this means that energy is released upon the creation of a bound state...

 into atoms. The exchange or sharing of the electrons between two or more atoms is the main cause of chemical bond
Chemical bond
A chemical bond is an attraction between atoms that allows the formation of chemical substances that contain two or more atoms. The bond is caused by the electromagnetic force attraction between opposite charges, either between electrons and nuclei, or as the result of a dipole attraction...

ing.

According to theory, most electrons in the universe were created in the big bang
Big Bang
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

, but they may also be created through beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

 of radioactive isotopes
Radionuclide
A radionuclide is an atom with an unstable nucleus, which is a nucleus characterized by excess energy available to be imparted either to a newly created radiation particle within the nucleus or to an atomic electron. The radionuclide, in this process, undergoes radioactive decay, and emits gamma...

 and in high-energy collisions, for instance when cosmic ray
Cosmic ray
Cosmic rays are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. They may produce secondary particles that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and surface. The term ray is historical as cosmic rays were thought to be electromagnetic radiation...

s enter the atmosphere. Electrons may be destroyed through annihilation with positrons, and may be absorbed during nucleosynthesis in stars
Stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis is the collective term for the nuclear reactions taking place in stars to build the nuclei of the elements heavier than hydrogen. Some small quantity of these reactions also occur on the stellar surface under various circumstances...

. Laboratory instruments are capable of containing and observing individual electrons as well as electron plasma
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

, whereas dedicated telescope
Telescope
A telescope is an instrument that aids in the observation of remote objects by collecting electromagnetic radiation . The first known practical telescopes were invented in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 1600s , using glass lenses...

s can detect electron plasma in outer space. Electrons have many applications, including welding
Electron beam welding
Electron beam welding is a fusion welding process in which a beam of high-velocity electrons is applied to the materials being joined. The workpieces melt as the kinetic energy of the electrons is transformed into heat upon impact, and the filler metal, if used, also melts to form part of the weld...

, cathode ray tube
Cathode ray tube
The cathode ray tube is a vacuum tube containing an electron gun and a fluorescent screen used to view images. It has a means to accelerate and deflect the electron beam onto the fluorescent screen to create the images. The image may represent electrical waveforms , pictures , radar targets and...

s, electron microscope
Electron microscope
An electron microscope is a type of microscope that uses a beam of electrons to illuminate the specimen and produce a magnified image. Electron microscopes have a greater resolving power than a light-powered optical microscope, because electrons have wavelengths about 100,000 times shorter than...

s, radiation therapy
Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy , radiation oncology, or radiotherapy , sometimes abbreviated to XRT or DXT, is the medical use of ionizing radiation, generally as part of cancer treatment to control malignant cells.Radiation therapy is commonly applied to the cancerous tumor because of its ability to control...

, lasers
Free electron laser
A free-electron laser, or FEL, is a laser that shares the same optical properties as conventional lasers such as emitting a beam consisting of coherent electromagnetic radiation which can reach high power, but which uses some very different operating principles to form the beam...

 and particle accelerator
Particle accelerator
A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...

s.

History


The ancient Greeks noticed that amber
Amber
Amber is fossilized tree resin , which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Amber is used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and as jewelry. There are five classes of amber, defined on the basis of their chemical constituents...

 attracted small objects when rubbed with fur. Apart from lightning
Lightning
Lightning is an atmospheric electrostatic discharge accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms, and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms...

, this phenomenon is humanity's earliest recorded experience with electricity. In his 1600 treatise , the English scientist William Gilbert coined the New Latin
New Latin
The term New Latin, or Neo-Latin, is used to describe the Latin language used in original works created between c. 1500 and c. 1900. Among other uses, Latin during this period was employed in scholarly and scientific publications...

 term , to refer to this property of attracting small objects after being rubbed. Both electric and electricity are derived from the Latin (also the root of the alloy of the same name
Electrum
Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, with trace amounts of copper and other metals. It has also been produced artificially. The ancient Greeks called it 'gold' or 'white gold', as opposed to 'refined gold'. Its color ranges from pale to bright yellow, depending on the...

), which came from the Greek word () for amber.

In 1737, C. F. du Fay
C. F. du Fay
Charles François de Cisternay du Fay was a French chemist and superintendent of the Jardin du Roi.He discovered the existence of two types of electricity and named them "vitreous" and "resinous"...

 and Hawksbee independently discovered what they believed to be two kinds of frictional electricity; one generated from rubbing glass, the other from rubbing resin. From this, Du Fay theorized that electricity consists of two electrical fluids
Aether theories
Aether theories in early modern physics proposed the existence of a medium, the aether , a space-filling substance or field, thought to be necessary as a transmission medium for the propagation of electromagnetic waves...

, "vitreous" and "resinous", that are separated by friction and that neutralize each other when combined. A decade later Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 proposed that electricity was not from different types of electrical fluid, but the same electrical fluid under different pressures. He gave them the modern charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

 nomenclature of positive and negative respectively. Franklin thought that the charge carrier was positive.

Between 1838 and 1851, British natural philosopher Richard Laming
Richard Laming
Richard Laming was a British surgeon, natural philosopher, inventor, chemist and industrialist.There is some uncertainty about his origins. It is believed that he was born Margate, England 17 August 1799, the son of James Laming, a packet owner, and Sarah Walton. He had an elder brother James,...

 developed the idea that an atom is composed of a core of matter surrounded by subatomic particles that had unit electric charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

s. Beginning in 1846, German physicist William Weber
Wilhelm Eduard Weber
Wilhelm Eduard Weber was a German physicist and, together with Carl Friedrich Gauss, inventor of the first electromagnetic telegraph.-Early years:...

 theorized that electricity was composed of positively and negatively charged fluids, and their interaction was governed by the inverse square law. After studying the phenomenon of electrolysis
Electrolysis
In chemistry and manufacturing, electrolysis is a method of using a direct electric current to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction...

 in 1874, Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney
George Johnstone Stoney
George Johnstone Stoney was an Irish physicist most famous for introducing the term electron as the "fundamental unit quantity of electricity"....

 suggested that there existed a "single definite quantity of electricity", the charge of a monovalent
Valence (chemistry)
In chemistry, valence, also known as valency or valence number, is a measure of the number of bonds formed by an atom of a given element. "Valence" can be defined as the number of valence bonds...

 ion
Ion
An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass between electrodes in a...

. He was able to estimate the value of this elementary charge e by means of Faraday's laws of electrolysis
Faraday's laws of electrolysis
Faraday's laws of electrolysis are quantitative relationships based on the electrochemical researches published by Michael Faraday in 1834.-Statements of the laws:Several versions of the laws can be found in textbooks and the scientific literature...

. However, Stoney believed these charges were permanently attached to atoms and could not be removed. In 1881, German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz was a German physician and physicist who made significant contributions to several widely varied areas of modern science...

 argued that both positive and negative charges were divided into elementary parts, each of which "behaves like atoms of electricity".

In 1894, Stoney coined the term electron to describe these elementary charges, saying, "... an estimate was made of the actual amount of this most remarkable fundamental unit of electricity, for which I have since ventured to suggest the name electron". The word electron is a combination of the word electric and the suffix -on, with the latter now used to designate a subatomic particle, such as a proton or neutron.

Discovery


The German physicist Johann Wilhelm Hittorf
Johann Wilhelm Hittorf
Johann Wilhelm Hittorf was a German physicist who was born in Bonn and died in Münster, Germany.Hittorf was the first to compute the electricity-carrying capacity of charged atoms and molecules , an important factor in understanding electrochemical reactions...

 undertook the study of electrical conductivity in rarefied gases. In 1869, he discovered a glow emitted from the cathode
Cathode
A cathode is an electrode through which electric current flows out of a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: CCD .Cathode polarity is not always negative...

 that increased in size with decrease in gas pressure. In 1876, the German physicist Eugen Goldstein
Eugen Goldstein
Eugen Goldstein was a German physicist. He was an early investigator of discharge tubes, the discoverer of anode rays, and is sometimes credited with the discovery of the proton.- Life :...

 showed that the rays from this glow cast a shadow, and he dubbed the rays cathode ray
Cathode ray
Cathode rays are streams of electrons observed in vacuum tubes. If an evacuated glass tube is equipped with two electrodes and a voltage is applied, the glass opposite of the negative electrode is observed to glow, due to electrons emitted from and travelling perpendicular to the cathode Cathode...

s. During the 1870s, the English chemist and physicist Sir William Crookes
William Crookes
Sir William Crookes, OM, FRS was a British chemist and physicist who attended the Royal College of Chemistry, London, and worked on spectroscopy...

 developed the first cathode ray tube to have a high vacuum
Vacuum
In everyday usage, vacuum is a volume of space that is essentially empty of matter, such that its gaseous pressure is much less than atmospheric pressure. The word comes from the Latin term for "empty". A perfect vacuum would be one with no particles in it at all, which is impossible to achieve in...

 inside. He then showed that the luminescence rays appearing within the tube carried energy and moved from the cathode to the anode
Anode
An anode is an electrode through which electric current flows into a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: ACID ....

. Furthermore, by applying a magnetic field, he was able to deflect the rays, thereby demonstrating that the beam behaved as though it were negatively charged. In 1879, he proposed that these properties could be explained by what he termed 'radiant matter'. He suggested that this was a fourth state of matter, consisting of negatively charged molecule
Molecule
A molecule is an electrically neutral group of at least two atoms held together by covalent chemical bonds. Molecules are distinguished from ions by their electrical charge...

s that were being projected with high velocity from the cathode.

The German-born British physicist Arthur Schuster
Arthur Schuster
Sir Franz Arthur Friedrich Schuster FRS was a German-born British physicist known for his work in spectroscopy, electrochemistry, optics, X-radiography and the application of harmonic analysis to physics...

 expanded upon Crookes' experiments by placing metal plates parallel to the cathode rays and applying an electric potential
Electric potential
In classical electromagnetism, the electric potential at a point within a defined space is equal to the electric potential energy at that location divided by the charge there...

 between the plates. The field deflected the rays toward the positively charged plate, providing further evidence that the rays carried negative charge. By measuring the amount of deflection for a given level of current
Electric current
Electric current is a flow of electric charge through a medium.This charge is typically carried by moving electrons in a conductor such as wire...

, in 1890 Schuster was able to estimate the charge-to-mass ratio
Mass-to-charge ratio
The mass-to-charge ratio ratio is a physical quantity that is widely used in the electrodynamics of charged particles, e.g. in electron optics and ion optics. It appears in the scientific fields of lithography, electron microscopy, cathode ray tubes, accelerator physics, nuclear physics, Auger...

 of the ray components. However, this produced a value that was more than a thousand times greater than what was expected, so little credence was given to his calculations at the time.

In 1896, the British physicist J. J. Thomson
J. J. Thomson
Sir Joseph John "J. J." Thomson, OM, FRS was a British physicist and Nobel laureate. He is credited for the discovery of the electron and of isotopes, and the invention of the mass spectrometer...

, with his colleagues John S. Townsend
John Sealy Townsend
John Sealy Edward Townsend, FRS was a mathematical physicist who conducted various studies concerning the electrical conduction of gases and directly measured the electrical charge...

 and H. A. Wilson
Harold A. Wilson (physicist)
Harold Albert Wilson was an English physicist.He was born in York, England, the son of a railway clerk. His mother, Anne Gill, was the daughter of a farmer and innkeeper from Topcliffe. Harold had one sister, Lilian, who would marry Sir Owen W. Richardson.He was educated at Yorkshire College in...

, performed experiments indicating that cathode rays really were unique particles, rather than waves, atoms or molecules as was believed earlier. Thomson made good estimates of both the charge e and the mass m, finding that cathode ray particles, which he called "corpuscles," had perhaps one thousandth of the mass of the least massive ion known: hydrogen. He showed that their charge to mass ratio, e/m, was independent of cathode material. He further showed that the negatively charged particles produced by radioactive materials, by heated materials and by illuminated materials were universal. The name electron was again proposed for these particles by the Irish physicist George F. Fitzgerald
George FitzGerald
George Francis FitzGerald was an Irish professor of "natural and experimental philosophy" at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, during the last quarter of the 19th century....

, and the name has since gained universal acceptance.

While studying naturally fluorescing
Fluorescence
Fluorescence is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation of a different wavelength. It is a form of luminescence. In most cases, emitted light has a longer wavelength, and therefore lower energy, than the absorbed radiation...

 minerals in 1896, the French physicist Henri Becquerel
Henri Becquerel
Antoine Henri Becquerel was a French physicist, Nobel laureate, and the discoverer of radioactivity along with Marie Curie and Pierre Curie, for which all three won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics.-Early life:...

 discovered that they emitted radiation without any exposure to an external energy source. These radioactive
Radioactive decay
Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles . The emission is spontaneous, in that the atom decays without any physical interaction with another particle from outside the atom...

 materials became the subject of much interest by scientists, including the New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 physicist Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson OM, FRS was a New Zealand-born British chemist and physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics...

 who discovered they emitted particles. He designated these particles alpha
Alpha particle
Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium nucleus, which is classically produced in the process of alpha decay, but may be produced also in other ways and given the same name...

 and beta
Beta particle
Beta particles are high-energy, high-speed electrons or positrons emitted by certain types of radioactive nuclei such as potassium-40. The beta particles emitted are a form of ionizing radiation also known as beta rays. The production of beta particles is termed beta decay...

, on the basis of their ability to penetrate matter. In 1900, Becquerel showed that the beta rays emitted by radium
Radium
Radium is a chemical element with atomic number 88, represented by the symbol Ra. Radium is an almost pure-white alkaline earth metal, but it readily oxidizes on exposure to air, becoming black in color. All isotopes of radium are highly radioactive, with the most stable isotope being radium-226,...

 could be deflected by an electric field, and that their mass-to-charge ratio was the same as for cathode rays. This evidence strengthened the view that electrons existed as components of atoms.

The electron's charge was more carefully measured by the American physicist Robert Millikan
Robert Millikan
Robert A. Millikan was an American experimental physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his measurement of the charge on the electron and for his work on the photoelectric effect. He served as president of Caltech from 1921 to 1945...

 and Harvey Fletcher
Harvey Fletcher
Harvey Fletcher was an American physicist. Known as the "father of stereophonic sound" he is credited with the invention of the audiometer and hearing aid...

 in their oil-drop experiment
Oil-drop experiment
The oil drop experiment was an experiment performed by Robert Millikan and Harvey Fletcher in 1909 to measure the elementary electric charge ....

 of 1909, the results of which were published in 1911. This experiment used an electric field to prevent a charged droplet of oil from falling as a result of gravity. This device could measure the electric charge from as few as 1–150 ions with an error margin of less than 0.3%. Comparable experiments had been done earlier by Thomson's team, using clouds of charged water droplets generated by electrolysis, and in 1911 by Abram Ioffe
Abram Ioffe
Abram Fedorovich Ioffe was a prominent Russian/Soviet physicist. He received the Stalin Prize , the Lenin Prize , and the Hero of Socialist Labor . Ioffe was an expert in electromagnetism, radiology, crystals, high-impact physics, thermoelectricity and photoelectricity...

, who independently obtained the same result as Millikan using charged microparticles of metals, then published his results in 1913. However, oil drops were more stable than water drops because of their slower evaporation rate, and thus more suited to precise experimentation over longer periods of time.

Around the beginning of the twentieth century, it was found that under certain conditions a fast moving charged particle caused a condensation of supersaturated
Supersaturation
The term supersaturation refers to a solution that contains more of the dissolved material than could be dissolved by the solvent under normal circumstances...

 water vapor along its path. In 1911, Charles Wilson
Charles Thomson Rees Wilson
Charles Thomson Rees Wilson, CH, FRS was a Scottish physicist and meteorologist who received the Nobel Prize in physics for his invention of the cloud chamber.- Biography:...

 used this principle to devise his cloud chamber
Cloud chamber
The cloud chamber, also known as the Wilson chamber, is a particle detector used for detecting ionizing radiation. In its most basic form, a cloud chamber is a sealed environment containing a supersaturated vapor of water or alcohol. When a charged particle interacts with the mixture, it ionizes it...

, allowing the tracks of charged particles, such as fast-moving electrons, to be photographed.

Atomic theory



By 1914, experiments by physicists Ernest Rutherford, Henry Moseley
Henry Moseley
Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley was an English physicist. Moseley's outstanding contribution to the science of physics was the justification from physical laws of the previous empirical and chemical concept of the atomic number. This stemmed from his development of Moseley's law in X-ray spectra...

, James Franck
James Franck
James Franck was a German Jewish physicist and Nobel laureate.-Biography:Franck was born to Jacob Franck and Rebecca Nachum Drucker. Franck completed his Ph.D...

 and Gustav Hertz
Gustav Ludwig Hertz
Gustav Ludwig Hertz was a German experimental physicist and Nobel Prize winner, and a nephew of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz.-Biography:...

 had largely established the structure of an atom as a dense nucleus
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 of positive charge surrounded by lower-mass electrons. In 1913, Danish physicist Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

 postulated that electrons resided in quantized energy states, with the energy determined by the angular momentum of the electron's orbits about the nucleus. The electrons could move between these states, or orbits, by the emission or absorption of photons at specific frequencies. By means of these quantized orbits, he accurately explained the spectral line
Spectral line
A spectral line is a dark or bright line in an otherwise uniform and continuous spectrum, resulting from a deficiency or excess of photons in a narrow frequency range, compared with the nearby frequencies.- Types of line spectra :...

s of the hydrogen atom. However, Bohr's model failed to account for the relative intensities of the spectral lines and it was unsuccessful in explaining the spectra of more complex atoms.

Chemical bonds between atoms were explained by Gilbert Newton Lewis, who in 1916 proposed that a covalent bond
Covalent bond
A covalent bond is a form of chemical bonding that is characterized by the sharing of pairs of electrons between atoms. The stable balance of attractive and repulsive forces between atoms when they share electrons is known as covalent bonding....

 between two atoms is maintained by a pair of electrons shared between them. Later, in 1923, Walter Heitler
Walter Heitler
Walter Heinrich Heitler was a German physicist who made contributions to quantum electrodynamics and quantum field theory...

 and Fritz London
Fritz London
Fritz Wolfgang London was a German theoretical physicist. His fundamental contributions to the theories of chemical bonding and of intermolecular forces are today considered classic and are discussed in standard textbooks of physical chemistry.With his brother Heinz, he made a significant...

 gave the full explanation of the electron-pair formation and chemical bonding in terms of quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

. In 1919, the American chemist Irving Langmuir
Irving Langmuir
Irving Langmuir was an American chemist and physicist. His most noted publication was the famous 1919 article "The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules" in which, building on Gilbert N. Lewis's cubical atom theory and Walther Kossel's chemical bonding theory, he outlined his...

 elaborated on the Lewis' static model of the atom and suggested that all electrons were distributed in successive "concentric (nearly) spherical shells, all of equal thickness". The shells were, in turn, divided by him in a number of cells each containing one pair of electrons. With this model Langmuir was able to qualitatively explain the chemical properties
Chemical property
A chemical property is any of a material's properties that becomes evident during a chemical reaction; that is, any quality that can be established only by changing a substance's chemical identity...

 of all elements in the periodic table, which were known to largely repeat themselves according to the periodic law.

In 1924, Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Ernst Pauli was an Austrian theoretical physicist and one of the pioneers of quantum physics. In 1945, after being nominated by Albert Einstein, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his "decisive contribution through his discovery of a new law of Nature, the exclusion principle or...

 observed that the shell-like structure of the atom could be explained by a set of four parameters that defined every quantum energy state, as long as each state was inhabited by no more than a single electron. (This prohibition against more than one electron occupying the same quantum energy state became known as the Pauli exclusion principle
Pauli exclusion principle
The Pauli exclusion principle is the quantum mechanical principle that no two identical fermions may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. A more rigorous statement is that the total wave function for two identical fermions is anti-symmetric with respect to exchange of the particles...

.) The physical mechanism to explain the fourth parameter, which had two distinct possible values, was provided by the Dutch physicists Samuel Goudsmit and George Uhlenbeck. In 1925, Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck suggested that an electron, in addition to the angular momentum of its orbit, possesses an intrinsic angular momentum and magnetic dipole moment
Magnetic moment
The magnetic moment of a magnet is a quantity that determines the force that the magnet can exert on electric currents and the torque that a magnetic field will exert on it...

. The intrinsic angular momentum became known as spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

, and explained the previously mysterious splitting of spectral lines observed with a high-resolution spectrograph
Spectrometer
A spectrometer is an instrument used to measure properties of light over a specific portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, typically used in spectroscopic analysis to identify materials. The variable measured is most often the light's intensity but could also, for instance, be the polarization...

; this phenomenon is known as fine structure
Fine structure
In atomic physics, the fine structure describes the splitting of the spectral lines of atoms due to first order relativistic corrections.The gross structure of line spectra is the line spectra predicted by non-relativistic electrons with no spin. For a hydrogenic atom, the gross structure energy...

 splitting.

Quantum mechanics



In his 1924 dissertation (Research on Quantum Theory), French physicist Louis de Broglie hypothesized that all matter possesses a De Broglie wave similar to light
Light
Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye, and is responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light has wavelength in a range from about 380 nanometres to about 740 nm, with a frequency range of about 405 THz to 790 THz...

. That is, under the appropriate conditions, electrons and other matter would show properties of either particles or waves. The corpuscular properties of a particle are demonstrated when it is shown to have a localized position in space along its trajectory at any given moment. Wave-like nature is observed, for example, when a beam of light is passed through parallel slits and creates interference patterns. In 1927, the interference effect was demonstrated with a beam of electrons by English physicist George Paget Thomson
George Paget Thomson
Sir George Paget Thomson, FRS was an English physicist and Nobel laureate in physics recognised for his discovery with Clinton Davisson of the wave properties of the electron by electron diffraction.-Biography:...

 with a thin metal film and by American physicists Clinton Davisson
Clinton Davisson
Clinton Joseph Davisson , was an American physicist who won the 1937 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of electron diffraction. Davisson shared the Nobel Prize with George Paget Thomson, who independently discovered electron diffraction at about the same time as Davisson.-Early...

 and Lester Germer
Lester Germer
Lester Halbert Germer was an American physicist. With Clinton Davisson, he proved the wave-particle duality of matter in the Davisson–Germer experiment, which was important to the development of the electron microscope. These studies supported the theoretical work of De Broglie. He also studied...

 using a crystal of nickel
Nickel
Nickel is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile...

.
The success of de Broglie's prediction led to the publication, by Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger was an Austrian physicist and theoretical biologist who was one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, and is famed for a number of important contributions to physics, especially the Schrödinger equation, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933...

 in 1926, of the Schrödinger equation
Schrödinger equation
The Schrödinger equation was formulated in 1926 by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. Used in physics , it is an equation that describes how the quantum state of a physical system changes in time....

 that successfully describes how electron waves propagated. Rather than yielding a solution that determines the location of an electron over time, this wave equation can be used to predict the probability of finding an electron near a position. This approach was later called quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, which provided an extremely close derivation to the energy states of an electron in a hydrogen atom. Once spin and the interaction between multiple electrons were considered, quantum mechanics allowed the configuration of electrons in atoms with higher atomic numbers than hydrogen to be successfully predicted.

In 1928, building on Wolfgang Pauli's work, Paul Dirac
Paul Dirac
Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, OM, FRS was an English theoretical physicist who made fundamental contributions to the early development of both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics...

 produced a model of the electron - the Dirac equation
Dirac equation
The Dirac equation is a relativistic quantum mechanical wave equation formulated by British physicist Paul Dirac in 1928. It provided a description of elementary spin-½ particles, such as electrons, consistent with both the principles of quantum mechanics and the theory of special relativity, and...

, consistent with relativity
Principle of relativity
In physics, the principle of relativity is the requirement that the equations describing the laws of physics have the same form in all admissible frames of reference....

 theory, by applying relativistic and symmetry considerations to the hamiltonian
Hamiltonian (quantum mechanics)
In quantum mechanics, the Hamiltonian H, also Ȟ or Ĥ, is the operator corresponding to the total energy of the system. Its spectrum is the set of possible outcomes when one measures the total energy of a system...

 formulation of the quantum mechanics of the electro-magnetic field. In order to resolve some problems within his relativistic equation, in 1930 Dirac developed a model of the vacuum as an infinite sea of particles having negative energy, which was dubbed the Dirac sea
Dirac sea
The Dirac sea is a theoretical model of the vacuum as an infinite sea of particles with negative energy. It was first postulated by the British physicist Paul Dirac in 1930 to explain the anomalous negative-energy quantum states predicted by the Dirac equation for relativistic electrons...

. This led him to predict the existence of a positron, the antimatter
Antimatter
In particle physics, antimatter is the extension of the concept of the antiparticle to matter, where antimatter is composed of antiparticles in the same way that normal matter is composed of particles...

 counterpart of the electron. This particle was discovered in 1932 by Carl D. Anderson, who proposed calling standard electrons negatrons, and using electron as a generic term to describe both the positively and negatively charged variants. This usage of the term 'negatron' is still occasionally encountered today, and it may be shortened to 'negaton'.

In 1947 Willis Lamb, working in collaboration with graduate student Robert Rutherford, found that certain quantum states of hydrogen atom, which should have the same energy, were shifted in relation to each other, the difference being the Lamb shift. About the same time, Polykarp Kusch
Polykarp Kusch
Polykarp Kusch was a German-American physicist. In 1955 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics with Willis Eugene Lamb for his accurate determination that the magnetic moment of the electron was greater than its theoretical value, thus leading to reconsideration of—and...

, working with Henry M. Foley
Henry M. Foley
Henry Michael Foley was an Americanexperimental physicist.He was a professor and a leading physicist at Columbia University, later serving as chairman of the physics department. In 1948, Polykarp Kusch, working with Henry Foley, discovered the anomalous magnetic dipole moment of the electron...

, discovered the magnetic moment of the electron is slightly larger than predicted by Dirac's theory. This small difference was later called anomalous magnetic dipole moment
Anomalous magnetic dipole moment
In quantum electrodynamics, the anomalous magnetic moment of a particle is a contribution of effects of quantum mechanics, expressed by Feynman diagrams with loops, to the magnetic moment of that particle...

 of the electron. To resolve these issues, a refined theory called quantum electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics is the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved...

 was developed by Sin-Itiro Tomonaga
Sin-Itiro Tomonaga
was a Japanese physicist, influential in the development of quantum electrodynamics, work for which he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 along with Richard Feynman and Julian Schwinger.-Biography:...

, Julian Schwinger
Julian Schwinger
Julian Seymour Schwinger was an American theoretical physicist. He is best known for his work on the theory of quantum electrodynamics, in particular for developing a relativistically invariant perturbation theory, and for renormalizing QED to one loop order.Schwinger is recognized as one of the...

 and
Richard P. Feynman in the late 1940s.

Particle accelerators


With the development of the particle accelerator
Particle accelerator
A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...

 during the first half of the twentieth century, physicists began to delve deeper into the properties of subatomic particle
Subatomic particle
In physics or chemistry, subatomic particles are the smaller particles composing nucleons and atoms. There are two types of subatomic particles: elementary particles, which are not made of other particles, and composite particles...

s. The first successful attempt to accelerate electrons using electromagnetic induction
Electromagnetic induction
Electromagnetic induction is the production of an electric current across a conductor moving through a magnetic field. It underlies the operation of generators, transformers, induction motors, electric motors, synchronous motors, and solenoids....

 was made in 1942 by Donald Kerst. His initial betatron
Betatron
A betatron is a cyclotron developed by Donald Kerst at the University of Illinois in 1940 to accelerate electrons, but the concepts ultimately originate from Rolf Widerøe and previous development occurred in Germany through Max Steenbeck in the 1930s. The betatron is essentially a transformer with...

 reached energies of 2.3 MeV, while subsequent betatrons achieved 300 MeV. In 1947, synchrotron radiation
Synchrotron radiation
The electromagnetic radiation emitted when charged particles are accelerated radially is called synchrotron radiation. It is produced in synchrotrons using bending magnets, undulators and/or wigglers...

 was discovered with a 70 MeV electron synchrotron at General Electric
General Electric
General Electric Company , or GE, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation incorporated in Schenectady, New York and headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States...

. This radiation was caused by the acceleration of electrons, moving near the speed of light, through a magnetic field.

With a beam energy of 1.5 GeV, the first high-energy
particle collider
Collider
A collider is a type of a particle accelerator involving directed beams of particles.Colliders may either be ring accelerators or linear accelerators.-Explanation:...

 was ADONE
ADONE
ADONE was the first high-energy particle collider. It was operated from 1969 to 1993, by the National Institute of Nuclear Physics, in Frascati, Italy.-See also:*ADA collider*Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati...

, which began operations in 1968. This device accelerated electrons and positrons in opposite directions, effectively doubling the energy of their collision when compared to striking a static target with an electron. The Large Electron-Positron Collider
Large Electron-Positron Collider
The Large Electron–Positron Collider was one of the largest particle accelerators ever constructed.It was built at CERN, a multi-national centre for research in nuclear and particle physics near Geneva, Switzerland. LEP was a circular collider with a circumference of 27 kilometres built in a...

 (LEP) at CERN
CERN
The European Organization for Nuclear Research , known as CERN , is an international organization whose purpose is to operate the world's largest particle physics laboratory, which is situated in the northwest suburbs of Geneva on the Franco–Swiss border...

, which was operational from 1989 to 2000, achieved collision energies of 209 GeV and made important measurements for the Standard Model
Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...

 of particle physics.

Classification



In the Standard Model of particle physics, electrons belong to the group of subatomic particles called lepton
Lepton
A lepton is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. The best known of all leptons is the electron which governs nearly all of chemistry as it is found in atoms and is directly tied to all chemical properties. Two main classes of leptons exist: charged leptons , and neutral...

s, which are believed to be fundamental or elementary particle
Elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

s. Electrons have the lowest mass of any charged lepton (or electrically charged particle of any type) and belong to the first-generation
Generation (particle physics)
In particle physics, a generation is a division of the elementary particles. Between generations, particles differ by their quantum number and mass, but their interactions are identical....

 of fundamental particles. The second and third generation contain charged leptons, the muon
Muon
The muon |mu]] used to represent it) is an elementary particle similar to the electron, with a unitary negative electric charge and a spin of ½. Together with the electron, the tau, and the three neutrinos, it is classified as a lepton...

 and the tau, which are identical to the electron in charge, spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

 and interactions
Fundamental interaction
In particle physics, fundamental interactions are the ways that elementary particles interact with one another...

, but are more massive. Leptons differ from the other basic constituent of matter, the quark
Quark
A quark is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei. Due to a phenomenon known as color confinement, quarks are never directly...

s, by their lack of strong interaction
Strong interaction
In particle physics, the strong interaction is one of the four fundamental interactions of nature, the others being electromagnetism, the weak interaction and gravitation. As with the other fundamental interactions, it is a non-contact force...

. All members of the lepton group are fermions, because they all have half-odd integer spin; the electron has spin .

Fundamental properties


The invariant mass
Invariant mass
The invariant mass, rest mass, intrinsic mass, proper mass or just mass is a characteristic of the total energy and momentum of an object or a system of objects that is the same in all frames of reference related by Lorentz transformations...

 of an electron is approximately
{{Other uses}}
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The electron (symbol: {{SubatomicParticle|Electron}}) is a subatomic particle
Subatomic particle
In physics or chemistry, subatomic particles are the smaller particles composing nucleons and atoms. There are two types of subatomic particles: elementary particles, which are not made of other particles, and composite particles...

 with a negative elementary
Elementary charge
The elementary charge, usually denoted as e, is the electric charge carried by a single proton, or equivalently, the absolute value of the electric charge carried by a single electron. This elementary charge is a fundamental physical constant. To avoid confusion over its sign, e is sometimes called...

 electric charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle
Elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836
Proton-to-electron mass ratio
In physics, the proton-to-electron mass ratio, μ or β, is simply the rest mass of the proton divided by that of the electron...

 that of the proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

. The intrinsic angular momentum
Angular momentum
In physics, angular momentum, moment of momentum, or rotational momentum is a conserved vector quantity that can be used to describe the overall state of a physical system...

 (spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

) of the electron is a half-integer value in units of ħ, which means that it is a fermion
Fermion
In particle physics, a fermion is any particle which obeys the Fermi–Dirac statistics . Fermions contrast with bosons which obey Bose–Einstein statistics....

. The antiparticle
Antiparticle
Corresponding to most kinds of particles, there is an associated antiparticle with the same mass and opposite electric charge. For example, the antiparticle of the electron is the positively charged antielectron, or positron, which is produced naturally in certain types of radioactive decay.The...

 of the electron is called the positron
Positron
The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle or the antimatter counterpart of the electron. The positron has an electric charge of +1e, a spin of ½, and has the same mass as an electron...

; it is identical to the electron except that it carries electrical and other charge
Charge (physics)
In physics, a charge may refer to one of many different quantities, such as the electric charge in electromagnetism or the color charge in quantum chromodynamics. Charges are associated with conserved quantum numbers.-Formal definition:...

s of the opposite sign. When an electron collides with a positron, both particles may either scatter
Bhabha scattering
In quantum electrodynamics, Bhabha scattering is the electron-positron scattering process:There are two leading-order Feynman diagrams contributing to this interaction: an annihilation process and a scattering process. The Bhabha scattering rate is used as a luminosity monitor in electron-positron...

 off each other or be totally annihilated
Annihilation
Annihilation is defined as "total destruction" or "complete obliteration" of an object; having its root in the Latin nihil . A literal translation is "to make into nothing"....

, producing a pair (or more) of gamma ray
Gamma ray
Gamma radiation, also known as gamma rays or hyphenated as gamma-rays and denoted as γ, is electromagnetic radiation of high frequency . Gamma rays are usually naturally produced on Earth by decay of high energy states in atomic nuclei...

 photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

s. Electrons, which belong to the first generation
Generation (particle physics)
In particle physics, a generation is a division of the elementary particles. Between generations, particles differ by their quantum number and mass, but their interactions are identical....

 of the lepton
Lepton
A lepton is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. The best known of all leptons is the electron which governs nearly all of chemistry as it is found in atoms and is directly tied to all chemical properties. Two main classes of leptons exist: charged leptons , and neutral...

 particle family, participate in gravitation
Gravitation
Gravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. Gravitation is most familiar as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped...

al, electromagnetic and weak
Weak interaction
Weak interaction , is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, alongside the strong nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity. It is responsible for the radioactive decay of subatomic particles and initiates the process known as hydrogen fusion in stars...

 interactions
Fundamental interaction
In particle physics, fundamental interactions are the ways that elementary particles interact with one another...

. Electrons, like all matter, have quantum mechanical
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

 properties of both particles and waves
Wave–particle duality
Wave–particle duality postulates that all particles exhibit both wave and particle properties. A central concept of quantum mechanics, this duality addresses the inability of classical concepts like "particle" and "wave" to fully describe the behavior of quantum-scale objects...

, so they can collide with other particles and can be diffracted
Diffraction
Diffraction refers to various phenomena which occur when a wave encounters an obstacle. Italian scientist Francesco Maria Grimaldi coined the word "diffraction" and was the first to record accurate observations of the phenomenon in 1665...

 like light. However, this duality is best demonstrated in experiments with electrons, due to their tiny mass. Since an electron is a fermion, no two electrons can occupy the same quantum state, in accordance with the Pauli exclusion principle
Pauli exclusion principle
The Pauli exclusion principle is the quantum mechanical principle that no two identical fermions may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. A more rigorous statement is that the total wave function for two identical fermions is anti-symmetric with respect to exchange of the particles...

.

The concept of an indivisible quantity of electric charge was theorized to explain the chemical properties
Chemical property
A chemical property is any of a material's properties that becomes evident during a chemical reaction; that is, any quality that can be established only by changing a substance's chemical identity...

 of atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

s, beginning in 1838 by British natural philosopher Richard Laming
Richard Laming
Richard Laming was a British surgeon, natural philosopher, inventor, chemist and industrialist.There is some uncertainty about his origins. It is believed that he was born Margate, England 17 August 1799, the son of James Laming, a packet owner, and Sarah Walton. He had an elder brother James,...

; the name electron was introduced for this charge in 1894 by Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney
George Johnstone Stoney
George Johnstone Stoney was an Irish physicist most famous for introducing the term electron as the "fundamental unit quantity of electricity"....

. The electron was identified as a particle in 1897 by J. J. Thomson
J. J. Thomson
Sir Joseph John "J. J." Thomson, OM, FRS was a British physicist and Nobel laureate. He is credited for the discovery of the electron and of isotopes, and the invention of the mass spectrometer...

 and his team of British physicists.

In many physical phenomena, such as electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

, magnetism
Magnetism
Magnetism is a property of materials that respond at an atomic or subatomic level to an applied magnetic field. Ferromagnetism is the strongest and most familiar type of magnetism. It is responsible for the behavior of permanent magnets, which produce their own persistent magnetic fields, as well...

, and thermal conductivity
Thermal conductivity
In physics, thermal conductivity, k, is the property of a material's ability to conduct heat. It appears primarily in Fourier's Law for heat conduction....

, electrons play an essential role. An electron in motion relative to an observer generates a magnetic field
Magnetic field
A magnetic field is a mathematical description of the magnetic influence of electric currents and magnetic materials. The magnetic field at any given point is specified by both a direction and a magnitude ; as such it is a vector field.Technically, a magnetic field is a pseudo vector;...

, and will be deflected by external magnetic fields. When an electron is accelerated, it can absorb or radiate energy in the form of photons. Electrons, together with atomic nuclei
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 made of proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

s and neutron
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

s, make up atoms. However, electrons contribute less than 0.06% to an atom's total mass. The attractive Coulomb force
Coulomb's law
Coulomb's law or Coulomb's inverse-square law, is a law of physics describing the electrostatic interaction between electrically charged particles. It was first published in 1785 by French physicist Charles Augustin de Coulomb and was essential to the development of the theory of electromagnetism...

 between an electron and a proton causes electrons to be bound
Binding energy
Binding energy is the mechanical energy required to disassemble a whole into separate parts. A bound system typically has a lower potential energy than its constituent parts; this is what keeps the system together—often this means that energy is released upon the creation of a bound state...

 into atoms. The exchange or sharing of the electrons between two or more atoms is the main cause of chemical bond
Chemical bond
A chemical bond is an attraction between atoms that allows the formation of chemical substances that contain two or more atoms. The bond is caused by the electromagnetic force attraction between opposite charges, either between electrons and nuclei, or as the result of a dipole attraction...

ing.

According to theory, most electrons in the universe were created in the big bang
Big Bang
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

, but they may also be created through beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

 of radioactive isotopes
Radionuclide
A radionuclide is an atom with an unstable nucleus, which is a nucleus characterized by excess energy available to be imparted either to a newly created radiation particle within the nucleus or to an atomic electron. The radionuclide, in this process, undergoes radioactive decay, and emits gamma...

 and in high-energy collisions, for instance when cosmic ray
Cosmic ray
Cosmic rays are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. They may produce secondary particles that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and surface. The term ray is historical as cosmic rays were thought to be electromagnetic radiation...

s enter the atmosphere. Electrons may be destroyed through annihilation with positrons, and may be absorbed during nucleosynthesis in stars
Stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis is the collective term for the nuclear reactions taking place in stars to build the nuclei of the elements heavier than hydrogen. Some small quantity of these reactions also occur on the stellar surface under various circumstances...

. Laboratory instruments are capable of containing and observing individual electrons as well as electron plasma
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

, whereas dedicated telescope
Telescope
A telescope is an instrument that aids in the observation of remote objects by collecting electromagnetic radiation . The first known practical telescopes were invented in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 1600s , using glass lenses...

s can detect electron plasma in outer space. Electrons have many applications, including welding
Electron beam welding
Electron beam welding is a fusion welding process in which a beam of high-velocity electrons is applied to the materials being joined. The workpieces melt as the kinetic energy of the electrons is transformed into heat upon impact, and the filler metal, if used, also melts to form part of the weld...

, cathode ray tube
Cathode ray tube
The cathode ray tube is a vacuum tube containing an electron gun and a fluorescent screen used to view images. It has a means to accelerate and deflect the electron beam onto the fluorescent screen to create the images. The image may represent electrical waveforms , pictures , radar targets and...

s, electron microscope
Electron microscope
An electron microscope is a type of microscope that uses a beam of electrons to illuminate the specimen and produce a magnified image. Electron microscopes have a greater resolving power than a light-powered optical microscope, because electrons have wavelengths about 100,000 times shorter than...

s, radiation therapy
Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy , radiation oncology, or radiotherapy , sometimes abbreviated to XRT or DXT, is the medical use of ionizing radiation, generally as part of cancer treatment to control malignant cells.Radiation therapy is commonly applied to the cancerous tumor because of its ability to control...

, lasers
Free electron laser
A free-electron laser, or FEL, is a laser that shares the same optical properties as conventional lasers such as emitting a beam consisting of coherent electromagnetic radiation which can reach high power, but which uses some very different operating principles to form the beam...

 and particle accelerator
Particle accelerator
A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...

s.

History


{{See also|History of electromagnetism}}

The ancient Greeks noticed that amber
Amber
Amber is fossilized tree resin , which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Amber is used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and as jewelry. There are five classes of amber, defined on the basis of their chemical constituents...

 attracted small objects when rubbed with fur. Apart from lightning
Lightning
Lightning is an atmospheric electrostatic discharge accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms, and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms...

, this phenomenon is humanity's earliest recorded experience with electricity. In his 1600 treatise {{lang|la|De Magnete
De Magnete
De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure is a scientific work published in 1600 by the English physician and scientist William Gilbert and his partner Aaron Dowling...

}}, the English scientist William Gilbert coined the New Latin
New Latin
The term New Latin, or Neo-Latin, is used to describe the Latin language used in original works created between c. 1500 and c. 1900. Among other uses, Latin during this period was employed in scholarly and scientific publications...

 term {{lang|la|electricus}}, to refer to this property of attracting small objects after being rubbed. Both electric and electricity are derived from the Latin {{lang|la|ēlectrum}} (also the root of the alloy of the same name
Electrum
Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, with trace amounts of copper and other metals. It has also been produced artificially. The ancient Greeks called it 'gold' or 'white gold', as opposed to 'refined gold'. Its color ranges from pale to bright yellow, depending on the...

), which came from the Greek word {{lang|grc|ήλεκτρον}} ({{lang|grc-Latn|ēlektron}}) for amber.

In 1737, C. F. du Fay
C. F. du Fay
Charles François de Cisternay du Fay was a French chemist and superintendent of the Jardin du Roi.He discovered the existence of two types of electricity and named them "vitreous" and "resinous"...

 and Hawksbee independently discovered what they believed to be two kinds of frictional electricity; one generated from rubbing glass, the other from rubbing resin. From this, Du Fay theorized that electricity consists of two electrical fluids
Aether theories
Aether theories in early modern physics proposed the existence of a medium, the aether , a space-filling substance or field, thought to be necessary as a transmission medium for the propagation of electromagnetic waves...

, "vitreous" and "resinous", that are separated by friction and that neutralize each other when combined. A decade later Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 proposed that electricity was not from different types of electrical fluid, but the same electrical fluid under different pressures. He gave them the modern charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

 nomenclature of positive and negative respectively. Franklin thought that the charge carrier was positive.

Between 1838 and 1851, British natural philosopher Richard Laming
Richard Laming
Richard Laming was a British surgeon, natural philosopher, inventor, chemist and industrialist.There is some uncertainty about his origins. It is believed that he was born Margate, England 17 August 1799, the son of James Laming, a packet owner, and Sarah Walton. He had an elder brother James,...

 developed the idea that an atom is composed of a core of matter surrounded by subatomic particles that had unit electric charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

s. Beginning in 1846, German physicist William Weber
Wilhelm Eduard Weber
Wilhelm Eduard Weber was a German physicist and, together with Carl Friedrich Gauss, inventor of the first electromagnetic telegraph.-Early years:...

 theorized that electricity was composed of positively and negatively charged fluids, and their interaction was governed by the inverse square law. After studying the phenomenon of electrolysis
Electrolysis
In chemistry and manufacturing, electrolysis is a method of using a direct electric current to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction...

 in 1874, Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney
George Johnstone Stoney
George Johnstone Stoney was an Irish physicist most famous for introducing the term electron as the "fundamental unit quantity of electricity"....

 suggested that there existed a "single definite quantity of electricity", the charge of a monovalent
Valence (chemistry)
In chemistry, valence, also known as valency or valence number, is a measure of the number of bonds formed by an atom of a given element. "Valence" can be defined as the number of valence bonds...

 ion
Ion
An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass between electrodes in a...

. He was able to estimate the value of this elementary charge e by means of Faraday's laws of electrolysis
Faraday's laws of electrolysis
Faraday's laws of electrolysis are quantitative relationships based on the electrochemical researches published by Michael Faraday in 1834.-Statements of the laws:Several versions of the laws can be found in textbooks and the scientific literature...

. However, Stoney believed these charges were permanently attached to atoms and could not be removed. In 1881, German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz was a German physician and physicist who made significant contributions to several widely varied areas of modern science...

 argued that both positive and negative charges were divided into elementary parts, each of which "behaves like atoms of electricity".

In 1894, Stoney coined the term electron to describe these elementary charges, saying, "... an estimate was made of the actual amount of this most remarkable fundamental unit of electricity, for which I have since ventured to suggest the name electron". The word electron is a combination of the word electric and the suffix -on, with the latter now used to designate a subatomic particle, such as a proton or neutron.

Discovery


The German physicist Johann Wilhelm Hittorf
Johann Wilhelm Hittorf
Johann Wilhelm Hittorf was a German physicist who was born in Bonn and died in Münster, Germany.Hittorf was the first to compute the electricity-carrying capacity of charged atoms and molecules , an important factor in understanding electrochemical reactions...

 undertook the study of electrical conductivity in rarefied gases. In 1869, he discovered a glow emitted from the cathode
Cathode
A cathode is an electrode through which electric current flows out of a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: CCD .Cathode polarity is not always negative...

 that increased in size with decrease in gas pressure. In 1876, the German physicist Eugen Goldstein
Eugen Goldstein
Eugen Goldstein was a German physicist. He was an early investigator of discharge tubes, the discoverer of anode rays, and is sometimes credited with the discovery of the proton.- Life :...

 showed that the rays from this glow cast a shadow, and he dubbed the rays cathode ray
Cathode ray
Cathode rays are streams of electrons observed in vacuum tubes. If an evacuated glass tube is equipped with two electrodes and a voltage is applied, the glass opposite of the negative electrode is observed to glow, due to electrons emitted from and travelling perpendicular to the cathode Cathode...

s. During the 1870s, the English chemist and physicist Sir William Crookes
William Crookes
Sir William Crookes, OM, FRS was a British chemist and physicist who attended the Royal College of Chemistry, London, and worked on spectroscopy...

 developed the first cathode ray tube to have a high vacuum
Vacuum
In everyday usage, vacuum is a volume of space that is essentially empty of matter, such that its gaseous pressure is much less than atmospheric pressure. The word comes from the Latin term for "empty". A perfect vacuum would be one with no particles in it at all, which is impossible to achieve in...

 inside. He then showed that the luminescence rays appearing within the tube carried energy and moved from the cathode to the anode
Anode
An anode is an electrode through which electric current flows into a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: ACID ....

. Furthermore, by applying a magnetic field, he was able to deflect the rays, thereby demonstrating that the beam behaved as though it were negatively charged. In 1879, he proposed that these properties could be explained by what he termed 'radiant matter'. He suggested that this was a fourth state of matter, consisting of negatively charged molecule
Molecule
A molecule is an electrically neutral group of at least two atoms held together by covalent chemical bonds. Molecules are distinguished from ions by their electrical charge...

s that were being projected with high velocity from the cathode.

The German-born British physicist Arthur Schuster
Arthur Schuster
Sir Franz Arthur Friedrich Schuster FRS was a German-born British physicist known for his work in spectroscopy, electrochemistry, optics, X-radiography and the application of harmonic analysis to physics...

 expanded upon Crookes' experiments by placing metal plates parallel to the cathode rays and applying an electric potential
Electric potential
In classical electromagnetism, the electric potential at a point within a defined space is equal to the electric potential energy at that location divided by the charge there...

 between the plates. The field deflected the rays toward the positively charged plate, providing further evidence that the rays carried negative charge. By measuring the amount of deflection for a given level of current
Electric current
Electric current is a flow of electric charge through a medium.This charge is typically carried by moving electrons in a conductor such as wire...

, in 1890 Schuster was able to estimate the charge-to-mass ratio
Mass-to-charge ratio
The mass-to-charge ratio ratio is a physical quantity that is widely used in the electrodynamics of charged particles, e.g. in electron optics and ion optics. It appears in the scientific fields of lithography, electron microscopy, cathode ray tubes, accelerator physics, nuclear physics, Auger...

 of the ray components. However, this produced a value that was more than a thousand times greater than what was expected, so little credence was given to his calculations at the time.

In 1896, the British physicist J. J. Thomson
J. J. Thomson
Sir Joseph John "J. J." Thomson, OM, FRS was a British physicist and Nobel laureate. He is credited for the discovery of the electron and of isotopes, and the invention of the mass spectrometer...

, with his colleagues John S. Townsend
John Sealy Townsend
John Sealy Edward Townsend, FRS was a mathematical physicist who conducted various studies concerning the electrical conduction of gases and directly measured the electrical charge...

 and H. A. Wilson
Harold A. Wilson (physicist)
Harold Albert Wilson was an English physicist.He was born in York, England, the son of a railway clerk. His mother, Anne Gill, was the daughter of a farmer and innkeeper from Topcliffe. Harold had one sister, Lilian, who would marry Sir Owen W. Richardson.He was educated at Yorkshire College in...

, performed experiments indicating that cathode rays really were unique particles, rather than waves, atoms or molecules as was believed earlier. Thomson made good estimates of both the charge e and the mass m, finding that cathode ray particles, which he called "corpuscles," had perhaps one thousandth of the mass of the least massive ion known: hydrogen. He showed that their charge to mass ratio, e/m, was independent of cathode material. He further showed that the negatively charged particles produced by radioactive materials, by heated materials and by illuminated materials were universal. The name electron was again proposed for these particles by the Irish physicist George F. Fitzgerald
George FitzGerald
George Francis FitzGerald was an Irish professor of "natural and experimental philosophy" at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, during the last quarter of the 19th century....

, and the name has since gained universal acceptance.

While studying naturally fluorescing
Fluorescence
Fluorescence is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation of a different wavelength. It is a form of luminescence. In most cases, emitted light has a longer wavelength, and therefore lower energy, than the absorbed radiation...

 minerals in 1896, the French physicist Henri Becquerel
Henri Becquerel
Antoine Henri Becquerel was a French physicist, Nobel laureate, and the discoverer of radioactivity along with Marie Curie and Pierre Curie, for which all three won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics.-Early life:...

 discovered that they emitted radiation without any exposure to an external energy source. These radioactive
Radioactive decay
Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles . The emission is spontaneous, in that the atom decays without any physical interaction with another particle from outside the atom...

 materials became the subject of much interest by scientists, including the New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 physicist Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson OM, FRS was a New Zealand-born British chemist and physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics...

 who discovered they emitted particles. He designated these particles alpha
Alpha particle
Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium nucleus, which is classically produced in the process of alpha decay, but may be produced also in other ways and given the same name...

 and beta
Beta particle
Beta particles are high-energy, high-speed electrons or positrons emitted by certain types of radioactive nuclei such as potassium-40. The beta particles emitted are a form of ionizing radiation also known as beta rays. The production of beta particles is termed beta decay...

, on the basis of their ability to penetrate matter. In 1900, Becquerel showed that the beta rays emitted by radium
Radium
Radium is a chemical element with atomic number 88, represented by the symbol Ra. Radium is an almost pure-white alkaline earth metal, but it readily oxidizes on exposure to air, becoming black in color. All isotopes of radium are highly radioactive, with the most stable isotope being radium-226,...

 could be deflected by an electric field, and that their mass-to-charge ratio was the same as for cathode rays. This evidence strengthened the view that electrons existed as components of atoms.

The electron's charge was more carefully measured by the American physicist Robert Millikan
Robert Millikan
Robert A. Millikan was an American experimental physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his measurement of the charge on the electron and for his work on the photoelectric effect. He served as president of Caltech from 1921 to 1945...

 and Harvey Fletcher
Harvey Fletcher
Harvey Fletcher was an American physicist. Known as the "father of stereophonic sound" he is credited with the invention of the audiometer and hearing aid...

 in their oil-drop experiment
Oil-drop experiment
The oil drop experiment was an experiment performed by Robert Millikan and Harvey Fletcher in 1909 to measure the elementary electric charge ....

 of 1909, the results of which were published in 1911. This experiment used an electric field to prevent a charged droplet of oil from falling as a result of gravity. This device could measure the electric charge from as few as 1–150 ions with an error margin of less than 0.3%. Comparable experiments had been done earlier by Thomson's team, using clouds of charged water droplets generated by electrolysis, and in 1911 by Abram Ioffe
Abram Ioffe
Abram Fedorovich Ioffe was a prominent Russian/Soviet physicist. He received the Stalin Prize , the Lenin Prize , and the Hero of Socialist Labor . Ioffe was an expert in electromagnetism, radiology, crystals, high-impact physics, thermoelectricity and photoelectricity...

, who independently obtained the same result as Millikan using charged microparticles of metals, then published his results in 1913. However, oil drops were more stable than water drops because of their slower evaporation rate, and thus more suited to precise experimentation over longer periods of time.

Around the beginning of the twentieth century, it was found that under certain conditions a fast moving charged particle caused a condensation of supersaturated
Supersaturation
The term supersaturation refers to a solution that contains more of the dissolved material than could be dissolved by the solvent under normal circumstances...

 water vapor along its path. In 1911, Charles Wilson
Charles Thomson Rees Wilson
Charles Thomson Rees Wilson, CH, FRS was a Scottish physicist and meteorologist who received the Nobel Prize in physics for his invention of the cloud chamber.- Biography:...

 used this principle to devise his cloud chamber
Cloud chamber
The cloud chamber, also known as the Wilson chamber, is a particle detector used for detecting ionizing radiation. In its most basic form, a cloud chamber is a sealed environment containing a supersaturated vapor of water or alcohol. When a charged particle interacts with the mixture, it ionizes it...

, allowing the tracks of charged particles, such as fast-moving electrons, to be photographed.

Atomic theory



By 1914, experiments by physicists Ernest Rutherford, Henry Moseley
Henry Moseley
Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley was an English physicist. Moseley's outstanding contribution to the science of physics was the justification from physical laws of the previous empirical and chemical concept of the atomic number. This stemmed from his development of Moseley's law in X-ray spectra...

, James Franck
James Franck
James Franck was a German Jewish physicist and Nobel laureate.-Biography:Franck was born to Jacob Franck and Rebecca Nachum Drucker. Franck completed his Ph.D...

 and Gustav Hertz
Gustav Ludwig Hertz
Gustav Ludwig Hertz was a German experimental physicist and Nobel Prize winner, and a nephew of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz.-Biography:...

 had largely established the structure of an atom as a dense nucleus
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 of positive charge surrounded by lower-mass electrons. In 1913, Danish physicist Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

 postulated that electrons resided in quantized energy states, with the energy determined by the angular momentum of the electron's orbits about the nucleus. The electrons could move between these states, or orbits, by the emission or absorption of photons at specific frequencies. By means of these quantized orbits, he accurately explained the spectral line
Spectral line
A spectral line is a dark or bright line in an otherwise uniform and continuous spectrum, resulting from a deficiency or excess of photons in a narrow frequency range, compared with the nearby frequencies.- Types of line spectra :...

s of the hydrogen atom. However, Bohr's model failed to account for the relative intensities of the spectral lines and it was unsuccessful in explaining the spectra of more complex atoms.

Chemical bonds between atoms were explained by Gilbert Newton Lewis, who in 1916 proposed that a covalent bond
Covalent bond
A covalent bond is a form of chemical bonding that is characterized by the sharing of pairs of electrons between atoms. The stable balance of attractive and repulsive forces between atoms when they share electrons is known as covalent bonding....

 between two atoms is maintained by a pair of electrons shared between them. Later, in 1923, Walter Heitler
Walter Heitler
Walter Heinrich Heitler was a German physicist who made contributions to quantum electrodynamics and quantum field theory...

 and Fritz London
Fritz London
Fritz Wolfgang London was a German theoretical physicist. His fundamental contributions to the theories of chemical bonding and of intermolecular forces are today considered classic and are discussed in standard textbooks of physical chemistry.With his brother Heinz, he made a significant...

 gave the full explanation of the electron-pair formation and chemical bonding in terms of quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

. In 1919, the American chemist Irving Langmuir
Irving Langmuir
Irving Langmuir was an American chemist and physicist. His most noted publication was the famous 1919 article "The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules" in which, building on Gilbert N. Lewis's cubical atom theory and Walther Kossel's chemical bonding theory, he outlined his...

 elaborated on the Lewis' static model of the atom and suggested that all electrons were distributed in successive "concentric (nearly) spherical shells, all of equal thickness". The shells were, in turn, divided by him in a number of cells each containing one pair of electrons. With this model Langmuir was able to qualitatively explain the chemical properties
Chemical property
A chemical property is any of a material's properties that becomes evident during a chemical reaction; that is, any quality that can be established only by changing a substance's chemical identity...

 of all elements in the periodic table, which were known to largely repeat themselves according to the periodic law.

In 1924, Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Ernst Pauli was an Austrian theoretical physicist and one of the pioneers of quantum physics. In 1945, after being nominated by Albert Einstein, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his "decisive contribution through his discovery of a new law of Nature, the exclusion principle or...

 observed that the shell-like structure of the atom could be explained by a set of four parameters that defined every quantum energy state, as long as each state was inhabited by no more than a single electron. (This prohibition against more than one electron occupying the same quantum energy state became known as the Pauli exclusion principle
Pauli exclusion principle
The Pauli exclusion principle is the quantum mechanical principle that no two identical fermions may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. A more rigorous statement is that the total wave function for two identical fermions is anti-symmetric with respect to exchange of the particles...

.) The physical mechanism to explain the fourth parameter, which had two distinct possible values, was provided by the Dutch physicists Samuel Goudsmit and George Uhlenbeck. In 1925, Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck suggested that an electron, in addition to the angular momentum of its orbit, possesses an intrinsic angular momentum and magnetic dipole moment
Magnetic moment
The magnetic moment of a magnet is a quantity that determines the force that the magnet can exert on electric currents and the torque that a magnetic field will exert on it...

. The intrinsic angular momentum became known as spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

, and explained the previously mysterious splitting of spectral lines observed with a high-resolution spectrograph
Spectrometer
A spectrometer is an instrument used to measure properties of light over a specific portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, typically used in spectroscopic analysis to identify materials. The variable measured is most often the light's intensity but could also, for instance, be the polarization...

; this phenomenon is known as fine structure
Fine structure
In atomic physics, the fine structure describes the splitting of the spectral lines of atoms due to first order relativistic corrections.The gross structure of line spectra is the line spectra predicted by non-relativistic electrons with no spin. For a hydrogenic atom, the gross structure energy...

 splitting.

Quantum mechanics


{{see_also|History of quantum mechanics}}
In his 1924 dissertation {{lang|fr|Recherches sur la théorie des quanta}} (Research on Quantum Theory), French physicist Louis de Broglie hypothesized that all matter possesses a De Broglie wave similar to light
Light
Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye, and is responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light has wavelength in a range from about 380 nanometres to about 740 nm, with a frequency range of about 405 THz to 790 THz...

. That is, under the appropriate conditions, electrons and other matter would show properties of either particles or waves. The corpuscular properties of a particle are demonstrated when it is shown to have a localized position in space along its trajectory at any given moment. Wave-like nature is observed, for example, when a beam of light is passed through parallel slits and creates interference patterns. In 1927, the interference effect was demonstrated with a beam of electrons by English physicist George Paget Thomson
George Paget Thomson
Sir George Paget Thomson, FRS was an English physicist and Nobel laureate in physics recognised for his discovery with Clinton Davisson of the wave properties of the electron by electron diffraction.-Biography:...

 with a thin metal film and by American physicists Clinton Davisson
Clinton Davisson
Clinton Joseph Davisson , was an American physicist who won the 1937 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of electron diffraction. Davisson shared the Nobel Prize with George Paget Thomson, who independently discovered electron diffraction at about the same time as Davisson.-Early...

 and Lester Germer
Lester Germer
Lester Halbert Germer was an American physicist. With Clinton Davisson, he proved the wave-particle duality of matter in the Davisson–Germer experiment, which was important to the development of the electron microscope. These studies supported the theoretical work of De Broglie. He also studied...

 using a crystal of nickel
Nickel
Nickel is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile...

.
The success of de Broglie's prediction led to the publication, by Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger was an Austrian physicist and theoretical biologist who was one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, and is famed for a number of important contributions to physics, especially the Schrödinger equation, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933...

 in 1926, of the Schrödinger equation
Schrödinger equation
The Schrödinger equation was formulated in 1926 by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. Used in physics , it is an equation that describes how the quantum state of a physical system changes in time....

 that successfully describes how electron waves propagated. Rather than yielding a solution that determines the location of an electron over time, this wave equation can be used to predict the probability of finding an electron near a position. This approach was later called quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, which provided an extremely close derivation to the energy states of an electron in a hydrogen atom. Once spin and the interaction between multiple electrons were considered, quantum mechanics allowed the configuration of electrons in atoms with higher atomic numbers than hydrogen to be successfully predicted.

In 1928, building on Wolfgang Pauli's work, Paul Dirac
Paul Dirac
Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, OM, FRS was an English theoretical physicist who made fundamental contributions to the early development of both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics...

 produced a model of the electron - the Dirac equation
Dirac equation
The Dirac equation is a relativistic quantum mechanical wave equation formulated by British physicist Paul Dirac in 1928. It provided a description of elementary spin-½ particles, such as electrons, consistent with both the principles of quantum mechanics and the theory of special relativity, and...

, consistent with relativity
Principle of relativity
In physics, the principle of relativity is the requirement that the equations describing the laws of physics have the same form in all admissible frames of reference....

 theory, by applying relativistic and symmetry considerations to the hamiltonian
Hamiltonian (quantum mechanics)
In quantum mechanics, the Hamiltonian H, also Ȟ or Ĥ, is the operator corresponding to the total energy of the system. Its spectrum is the set of possible outcomes when one measures the total energy of a system...

 formulation of the quantum mechanics of the electro-magnetic field. In order to resolve some problems within his relativistic equation, in 1930 Dirac developed a model of the vacuum as an infinite sea of particles having negative energy, which was dubbed the Dirac sea
Dirac sea
The Dirac sea is a theoretical model of the vacuum as an infinite sea of particles with negative energy. It was first postulated by the British physicist Paul Dirac in 1930 to explain the anomalous negative-energy quantum states predicted by the Dirac equation for relativistic electrons...

. This led him to predict the existence of a positron, the antimatter
Antimatter
In particle physics, antimatter is the extension of the concept of the antiparticle to matter, where antimatter is composed of antiparticles in the same way that normal matter is composed of particles...

 counterpart of the electron. This particle was discovered in 1932 by Carl D. Anderson, who proposed calling standard electrons negatrons, and using electron as a generic term to describe both the positively and negatively charged variants. This usage of the term 'negatron' is still occasionally encountered today, and it may be shortened to 'negaton'.

In 1947 Willis Lamb, working in collaboration with graduate student Robert Rutherford, found that certain quantum states of hydrogen atom, which should have the same energy, were shifted in relation to each other, the difference being the Lamb shift. About the same time, Polykarp Kusch
Polykarp Kusch
Polykarp Kusch was a German-American physicist. In 1955 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics with Willis Eugene Lamb for his accurate determination that the magnetic moment of the electron was greater than its theoretical value, thus leading to reconsideration of—and...

, working with Henry M. Foley
Henry M. Foley
Henry Michael Foley was an Americanexperimental physicist.He was a professor and a leading physicist at Columbia University, later serving as chairman of the physics department. In 1948, Polykarp Kusch, working with Henry Foley, discovered the anomalous magnetic dipole moment of the electron...

, discovered the magnetic moment of the electron is slightly larger than predicted by Dirac's theory. This small difference was later called anomalous magnetic dipole moment
Anomalous magnetic dipole moment
In quantum electrodynamics, the anomalous magnetic moment of a particle is a contribution of effects of quantum mechanics, expressed by Feynman diagrams with loops, to the magnetic moment of that particle...

 of the electron. To resolve these issues, a refined theory called quantum electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics is the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved...

 was developed by Sin-Itiro Tomonaga
Sin-Itiro Tomonaga
was a Japanese physicist, influential in the development of quantum electrodynamics, work for which he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 along with Richard Feynman and Julian Schwinger.-Biography:...

, Julian Schwinger
Julian Schwinger
Julian Seymour Schwinger was an American theoretical physicist. He is best known for his work on the theory of quantum electrodynamics, in particular for developing a relativistically invariant perturbation theory, and for renormalizing QED to one loop order.Schwinger is recognized as one of the...

 and
Richard P. Feynman in the late 1940s.

Particle accelerators


With the development of the particle accelerator
Particle accelerator
A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...

 during the first half of the twentieth century, physicists began to delve deeper into the properties of subatomic particle
Subatomic particle
In physics or chemistry, subatomic particles are the smaller particles composing nucleons and atoms. There are two types of subatomic particles: elementary particles, which are not made of other particles, and composite particles...

s. The first successful attempt to accelerate electrons using electromagnetic induction
Electromagnetic induction
Electromagnetic induction is the production of an electric current across a conductor moving through a magnetic field. It underlies the operation of generators, transformers, induction motors, electric motors, synchronous motors, and solenoids....

 was made in 1942 by Donald Kerst. His initial betatron
Betatron
A betatron is a cyclotron developed by Donald Kerst at the University of Illinois in 1940 to accelerate electrons, but the concepts ultimately originate from Rolf Widerøe and previous development occurred in Germany through Max Steenbeck in the 1930s. The betatron is essentially a transformer with...

 reached energies of 2.3 MeV, while subsequent betatrons achieved 300 MeV. In 1947, synchrotron radiation
Synchrotron radiation
The electromagnetic radiation emitted when charged particles are accelerated radially is called synchrotron radiation. It is produced in synchrotrons using bending magnets, undulators and/or wigglers...

 was discovered with a 70 MeV electron synchrotron at General Electric
General Electric
General Electric Company , or GE, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation incorporated in Schenectady, New York and headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States...

. This radiation was caused by the acceleration of electrons, moving near the speed of light, through a magnetic field.

With a beam energy of 1.5 GeV, the first high-energy
particle collider
Collider
A collider is a type of a particle accelerator involving directed beams of particles.Colliders may either be ring accelerators or linear accelerators.-Explanation:...

 was ADONE
ADONE
ADONE was the first high-energy particle collider. It was operated from 1969 to 1993, by the National Institute of Nuclear Physics, in Frascati, Italy.-See also:*ADA collider*Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati...

, which began operations in 1968. This device accelerated electrons and positrons in opposite directions, effectively doubling the energy of their collision when compared to striking a static target with an electron. The Large Electron-Positron Collider
Large Electron-Positron Collider
The Large Electron–Positron Collider was one of the largest particle accelerators ever constructed.It was built at CERN, a multi-national centre for research in nuclear and particle physics near Geneva, Switzerland. LEP was a circular collider with a circumference of 27 kilometres built in a...

 (LEP) at CERN
CERN
The European Organization for Nuclear Research , known as CERN , is an international organization whose purpose is to operate the world's largest particle physics laboratory, which is situated in the northwest suburbs of Geneva on the Franco–Swiss border...

, which was operational from 1989 to 2000, achieved collision energies of 209 GeV and made important measurements for the Standard Model
Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...

 of particle physics.

Classification



In the Standard Model of particle physics, electrons belong to the group of subatomic particles called lepton
Lepton
A lepton is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. The best known of all leptons is the electron which governs nearly all of chemistry as it is found in atoms and is directly tied to all chemical properties. Two main classes of leptons exist: charged leptons , and neutral...

s, which are believed to be fundamental or elementary particle
Elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

s. Electrons have the lowest mass of any charged lepton (or electrically charged particle of any type) and belong to the first-generation
Generation (particle physics)
In particle physics, a generation is a division of the elementary particles. Between generations, particles differ by their quantum number and mass, but their interactions are identical....

 of fundamental particles. The second and third generation contain charged leptons, the muon
Muon
The muon |mu]] used to represent it) is an elementary particle similar to the electron, with a unitary negative electric charge and a spin of ½. Together with the electron, the tau, and the three neutrinos, it is classified as a lepton...

 and the tau, which are identical to the electron in charge, spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

 and interactions
Fundamental interaction
In particle physics, fundamental interactions are the ways that elementary particles interact with one another...

, but are more massive. Leptons differ from the other basic constituent of matter, the quark
Quark
A quark is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei. Due to a phenomenon known as color confinement, quarks are never directly...

s, by their lack of strong interaction
Strong interaction
In particle physics, the strong interaction is one of the four fundamental interactions of nature, the others being electromagnetism, the weak interaction and gravitation. As with the other fundamental interactions, it is a non-contact force...

. All members of the lepton group are fermions, because they all have half-odd integer spin; the electron has spin {{frac|1|2}}.

Fundamental properties


The invariant mass
Invariant mass
The invariant mass, rest mass, intrinsic mass, proper mass or just mass is a characteristic of the total energy and momentum of an object or a system of objects that is the same in all frames of reference related by Lorentz transformations...

 of an electron is approximately
{{Other uses}}
{{pp-move-indef|small=yes}}
The electron (symbol: {{SubatomicParticle|Electron}}) is a subatomic particle
Subatomic particle
In physics or chemistry, subatomic particles are the smaller particles composing nucleons and atoms. There are two types of subatomic particles: elementary particles, which are not made of other particles, and composite particles...

 with a negative elementary
Elementary charge
The elementary charge, usually denoted as e, is the electric charge carried by a single proton, or equivalently, the absolute value of the electric charge carried by a single electron. This elementary charge is a fundamental physical constant. To avoid confusion over its sign, e is sometimes called...

 electric charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle
Elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836
Proton-to-electron mass ratio
In physics, the proton-to-electron mass ratio, μ or β, is simply the rest mass of the proton divided by that of the electron...

 that of the proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

. The intrinsic angular momentum
Angular momentum
In physics, angular momentum, moment of momentum, or rotational momentum is a conserved vector quantity that can be used to describe the overall state of a physical system...

 (spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

) of the electron is a half-integer value in units of ħ, which means that it is a fermion
Fermion
In particle physics, a fermion is any particle which obeys the Fermi–Dirac statistics . Fermions contrast with bosons which obey Bose–Einstein statistics....

. The antiparticle
Antiparticle
Corresponding to most kinds of particles, there is an associated antiparticle with the same mass and opposite electric charge. For example, the antiparticle of the electron is the positively charged antielectron, or positron, which is produced naturally in certain types of radioactive decay.The...

 of the electron is called the positron
Positron
The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle or the antimatter counterpart of the electron. The positron has an electric charge of +1e, a spin of ½, and has the same mass as an electron...

; it is identical to the electron except that it carries electrical and other charge
Charge (physics)
In physics, a charge may refer to one of many different quantities, such as the electric charge in electromagnetism or the color charge in quantum chromodynamics. Charges are associated with conserved quantum numbers.-Formal definition:...

s of the opposite sign. When an electron collides with a positron, both particles may either scatter
Bhabha scattering
In quantum electrodynamics, Bhabha scattering is the electron-positron scattering process:There are two leading-order Feynman diagrams contributing to this interaction: an annihilation process and a scattering process. The Bhabha scattering rate is used as a luminosity monitor in electron-positron...

 off each other or be totally annihilated
Annihilation
Annihilation is defined as "total destruction" or "complete obliteration" of an object; having its root in the Latin nihil . A literal translation is "to make into nothing"....

, producing a pair (or more) of gamma ray
Gamma ray
Gamma radiation, also known as gamma rays or hyphenated as gamma-rays and denoted as γ, is electromagnetic radiation of high frequency . Gamma rays are usually naturally produced on Earth by decay of high energy states in atomic nuclei...

 photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

s. Electrons, which belong to the first generation
Generation (particle physics)
In particle physics, a generation is a division of the elementary particles. Between generations, particles differ by their quantum number and mass, but their interactions are identical....

 of the lepton
Lepton
A lepton is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. The best known of all leptons is the electron which governs nearly all of chemistry as it is found in atoms and is directly tied to all chemical properties. Two main classes of leptons exist: charged leptons , and neutral...

 particle family, participate in gravitation
Gravitation
Gravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. Gravitation is most familiar as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped...

al, electromagnetic and weak
Weak interaction
Weak interaction , is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, alongside the strong nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity. It is responsible for the radioactive decay of subatomic particles and initiates the process known as hydrogen fusion in stars...

 interactions
Fundamental interaction
In particle physics, fundamental interactions are the ways that elementary particles interact with one another...

. Electrons, like all matter, have quantum mechanical
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

 properties of both particles and waves
Wave–particle duality
Wave–particle duality postulates that all particles exhibit both wave and particle properties. A central concept of quantum mechanics, this duality addresses the inability of classical concepts like "particle" and "wave" to fully describe the behavior of quantum-scale objects...

, so they can collide with other particles and can be diffracted
Diffraction
Diffraction refers to various phenomena which occur when a wave encounters an obstacle. Italian scientist Francesco Maria Grimaldi coined the word "diffraction" and was the first to record accurate observations of the phenomenon in 1665...

 like light. However, this duality is best demonstrated in experiments with electrons, due to their tiny mass. Since an electron is a fermion, no two electrons can occupy the same quantum state, in accordance with the Pauli exclusion principle
Pauli exclusion principle
The Pauli exclusion principle is the quantum mechanical principle that no two identical fermions may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. A more rigorous statement is that the total wave function for two identical fermions is anti-symmetric with respect to exchange of the particles...

.

The concept of an indivisible quantity of electric charge was theorized to explain the chemical properties
Chemical property
A chemical property is any of a material's properties that becomes evident during a chemical reaction; that is, any quality that can be established only by changing a substance's chemical identity...

 of atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

s, beginning in 1838 by British natural philosopher Richard Laming
Richard Laming
Richard Laming was a British surgeon, natural philosopher, inventor, chemist and industrialist.There is some uncertainty about his origins. It is believed that he was born Margate, England 17 August 1799, the son of James Laming, a packet owner, and Sarah Walton. He had an elder brother James,...

; the name electron was introduced for this charge in 1894 by Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney
George Johnstone Stoney
George Johnstone Stoney was an Irish physicist most famous for introducing the term electron as the "fundamental unit quantity of electricity"....

. The electron was identified as a particle in 1897 by J. J. Thomson
J. J. Thomson
Sir Joseph John "J. J." Thomson, OM, FRS was a British physicist and Nobel laureate. He is credited for the discovery of the electron and of isotopes, and the invention of the mass spectrometer...

 and his team of British physicists.

In many physical phenomena, such as electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

, magnetism
Magnetism
Magnetism is a property of materials that respond at an atomic or subatomic level to an applied magnetic field. Ferromagnetism is the strongest and most familiar type of magnetism. It is responsible for the behavior of permanent magnets, which produce their own persistent magnetic fields, as well...

, and thermal conductivity
Thermal conductivity
In physics, thermal conductivity, k, is the property of a material's ability to conduct heat. It appears primarily in Fourier's Law for heat conduction....

, electrons play an essential role. An electron in motion relative to an observer generates a magnetic field
Magnetic field
A magnetic field is a mathematical description of the magnetic influence of electric currents and magnetic materials. The magnetic field at any given point is specified by both a direction and a magnitude ; as such it is a vector field.Technically, a magnetic field is a pseudo vector;...

, and will be deflected by external magnetic fields. When an electron is accelerated, it can absorb or radiate energy in the form of photons. Electrons, together with atomic nuclei
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 made of proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

s and neutron
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

s, make up atoms. However, electrons contribute less than 0.06% to an atom's total mass. The attractive Coulomb force
Coulomb's law
Coulomb's law or Coulomb's inverse-square law, is a law of physics describing the electrostatic interaction between electrically charged particles. It was first published in 1785 by French physicist Charles Augustin de Coulomb and was essential to the development of the theory of electromagnetism...

 between an electron and a proton causes electrons to be bound
Binding energy
Binding energy is the mechanical energy required to disassemble a whole into separate parts. A bound system typically has a lower potential energy than its constituent parts; this is what keeps the system together—often this means that energy is released upon the creation of a bound state...

 into atoms. The exchange or sharing of the electrons between two or more atoms is the main cause of chemical bond
Chemical bond
A chemical bond is an attraction between atoms that allows the formation of chemical substances that contain two or more atoms. The bond is caused by the electromagnetic force attraction between opposite charges, either between electrons and nuclei, or as the result of a dipole attraction...

ing.

According to theory, most electrons in the universe were created in the big bang
Big Bang
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

, but they may also be created through beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

 of radioactive isotopes
Radionuclide
A radionuclide is an atom with an unstable nucleus, which is a nucleus characterized by excess energy available to be imparted either to a newly created radiation particle within the nucleus or to an atomic electron. The radionuclide, in this process, undergoes radioactive decay, and emits gamma...

 and in high-energy collisions, for instance when cosmic ray
Cosmic ray
Cosmic rays are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. They may produce secondary particles that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and surface. The term ray is historical as cosmic rays were thought to be electromagnetic radiation...

s enter the atmosphere. Electrons may be destroyed through annihilation with positrons, and may be absorbed during nucleosynthesis in stars
Stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis is the collective term for the nuclear reactions taking place in stars to build the nuclei of the elements heavier than hydrogen. Some small quantity of these reactions also occur on the stellar surface under various circumstances...

. Laboratory instruments are capable of containing and observing individual electrons as well as electron plasma
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

, whereas dedicated telescope
Telescope
A telescope is an instrument that aids in the observation of remote objects by collecting electromagnetic radiation . The first known practical telescopes were invented in the Netherlands at the beginning of the 1600s , using glass lenses...

s can detect electron plasma in outer space. Electrons have many applications, including welding
Electron beam welding
Electron beam welding is a fusion welding process in which a beam of high-velocity electrons is applied to the materials being joined. The workpieces melt as the kinetic energy of the electrons is transformed into heat upon impact, and the filler metal, if used, also melts to form part of the weld...

, cathode ray tube
Cathode ray tube
The cathode ray tube is a vacuum tube containing an electron gun and a fluorescent screen used to view images. It has a means to accelerate and deflect the electron beam onto the fluorescent screen to create the images. The image may represent electrical waveforms , pictures , radar targets and...

s, electron microscope
Electron microscope
An electron microscope is a type of microscope that uses a beam of electrons to illuminate the specimen and produce a magnified image. Electron microscopes have a greater resolving power than a light-powered optical microscope, because electrons have wavelengths about 100,000 times shorter than...

s, radiation therapy
Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy , radiation oncology, or radiotherapy , sometimes abbreviated to XRT or DXT, is the medical use of ionizing radiation, generally as part of cancer treatment to control malignant cells.Radiation therapy is commonly applied to the cancerous tumor because of its ability to control...

, lasers
Free electron laser
A free-electron laser, or FEL, is a laser that shares the same optical properties as conventional lasers such as emitting a beam consisting of coherent electromagnetic radiation which can reach high power, but which uses some very different operating principles to form the beam...

 and particle accelerator
Particle accelerator
A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...

s.

History


{{See also|History of electromagnetism}}

The ancient Greeks noticed that amber
Amber
Amber is fossilized tree resin , which has been appreciated for its color and natural beauty since Neolithic times. Amber is used as an ingredient in perfumes, as a healing agent in folk medicine, and as jewelry. There are five classes of amber, defined on the basis of their chemical constituents...

 attracted small objects when rubbed with fur. Apart from lightning
Lightning
Lightning is an atmospheric electrostatic discharge accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms, and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms...

, this phenomenon is humanity's earliest recorded experience with electricity. In his 1600 treatise {{lang|la|De Magnete
De Magnete
De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure is a scientific work published in 1600 by the English physician and scientist William Gilbert and his partner Aaron Dowling...

}}, the English scientist William Gilbert coined the New Latin
New Latin
The term New Latin, or Neo-Latin, is used to describe the Latin language used in original works created between c. 1500 and c. 1900. Among other uses, Latin during this period was employed in scholarly and scientific publications...

 term {{lang|la|electricus}}, to refer to this property of attracting small objects after being rubbed. Both electric and electricity are derived from the Latin {{lang|la|ēlectrum}} (also the root of the alloy of the same name
Electrum
Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, with trace amounts of copper and other metals. It has also been produced artificially. The ancient Greeks called it 'gold' or 'white gold', as opposed to 'refined gold'. Its color ranges from pale to bright yellow, depending on the...

), which came from the Greek word {{lang|grc|ήλεκτρον}} ({{lang|grc-Latn|ēlektron}}) for amber.

In 1737, C. F. du Fay
C. F. du Fay
Charles François de Cisternay du Fay was a French chemist and superintendent of the Jardin du Roi.He discovered the existence of two types of electricity and named them "vitreous" and "resinous"...

 and Hawksbee independently discovered what they believed to be two kinds of frictional electricity; one generated from rubbing glass, the other from rubbing resin. From this, Du Fay theorized that electricity consists of two electrical fluids
Aether theories
Aether theories in early modern physics proposed the existence of a medium, the aether , a space-filling substance or field, thought to be necessary as a transmission medium for the propagation of electromagnetic waves...

, "vitreous" and "resinous", that are separated by friction and that neutralize each other when combined. A decade later Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

 proposed that electricity was not from different types of electrical fluid, but the same electrical fluid under different pressures. He gave them the modern charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

 nomenclature of positive and negative respectively. Franklin thought that the charge carrier was positive.

Between 1838 and 1851, British natural philosopher Richard Laming
Richard Laming
Richard Laming was a British surgeon, natural philosopher, inventor, chemist and industrialist.There is some uncertainty about his origins. It is believed that he was born Margate, England 17 August 1799, the son of James Laming, a packet owner, and Sarah Walton. He had an elder brother James,...

 developed the idea that an atom is composed of a core of matter surrounded by subatomic particles that had unit electric charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

s. Beginning in 1846, German physicist William Weber
Wilhelm Eduard Weber
Wilhelm Eduard Weber was a German physicist and, together with Carl Friedrich Gauss, inventor of the first electromagnetic telegraph.-Early years:...

 theorized that electricity was composed of positively and negatively charged fluids, and their interaction was governed by the inverse square law. After studying the phenomenon of electrolysis
Electrolysis
In chemistry and manufacturing, electrolysis is a method of using a direct electric current to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction...

 in 1874, Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney
George Johnstone Stoney
George Johnstone Stoney was an Irish physicist most famous for introducing the term electron as the "fundamental unit quantity of electricity"....

 suggested that there existed a "single definite quantity of electricity", the charge of a monovalent
Valence (chemistry)
In chemistry, valence, also known as valency or valence number, is a measure of the number of bonds formed by an atom of a given element. "Valence" can be defined as the number of valence bonds...

 ion
Ion
An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass between electrodes in a...

. He was able to estimate the value of this elementary charge e by means of Faraday's laws of electrolysis
Faraday's laws of electrolysis
Faraday's laws of electrolysis are quantitative relationships based on the electrochemical researches published by Michael Faraday in 1834.-Statements of the laws:Several versions of the laws can be found in textbooks and the scientific literature...

. However, Stoney believed these charges were permanently attached to atoms and could not be removed. In 1881, German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann von Helmholtz
Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz was a German physician and physicist who made significant contributions to several widely varied areas of modern science...

 argued that both positive and negative charges were divided into elementary parts, each of which "behaves like atoms of electricity".

In 1894, Stoney coined the term electron to describe these elementary charges, saying, "... an estimate was made of the actual amount of this most remarkable fundamental unit of electricity, for which I have since ventured to suggest the name electron". The word electron is a combination of the word electric and the suffix -on, with the latter now used to designate a subatomic particle, such as a proton or neutron.

Discovery


The German physicist Johann Wilhelm Hittorf
Johann Wilhelm Hittorf
Johann Wilhelm Hittorf was a German physicist who was born in Bonn and died in Münster, Germany.Hittorf was the first to compute the electricity-carrying capacity of charged atoms and molecules , an important factor in understanding electrochemical reactions...

 undertook the study of electrical conductivity in rarefied gases. In 1869, he discovered a glow emitted from the cathode
Cathode
A cathode is an electrode through which electric current flows out of a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: CCD .Cathode polarity is not always negative...

 that increased in size with decrease in gas pressure. In 1876, the German physicist Eugen Goldstein
Eugen Goldstein
Eugen Goldstein was a German physicist. He was an early investigator of discharge tubes, the discoverer of anode rays, and is sometimes credited with the discovery of the proton.- Life :...

 showed that the rays from this glow cast a shadow, and he dubbed the rays cathode ray
Cathode ray
Cathode rays are streams of electrons observed in vacuum tubes. If an evacuated glass tube is equipped with two electrodes and a voltage is applied, the glass opposite of the negative electrode is observed to glow, due to electrons emitted from and travelling perpendicular to the cathode Cathode...

s. During the 1870s, the English chemist and physicist Sir William Crookes
William Crookes
Sir William Crookes, OM, FRS was a British chemist and physicist who attended the Royal College of Chemistry, London, and worked on spectroscopy...

 developed the first cathode ray tube to have a high vacuum
Vacuum
In everyday usage, vacuum is a volume of space that is essentially empty of matter, such that its gaseous pressure is much less than atmospheric pressure. The word comes from the Latin term for "empty". A perfect vacuum would be one with no particles in it at all, which is impossible to achieve in...

 inside. He then showed that the luminescence rays appearing within the tube carried energy and moved from the cathode to the anode
Anode
An anode is an electrode through which electric current flows into a polarized electrical device. Mnemonic: ACID ....

. Furthermore, by applying a magnetic field, he was able to deflect the rays, thereby demonstrating that the beam behaved as though it were negatively charged. In 1879, he proposed that these properties could be explained by what he termed 'radiant matter'. He suggested that this was a fourth state of matter, consisting of negatively charged molecule
Molecule
A molecule is an electrically neutral group of at least two atoms held together by covalent chemical bonds. Molecules are distinguished from ions by their electrical charge...

s that were being projected with high velocity from the cathode.

The German-born British physicist Arthur Schuster
Arthur Schuster
Sir Franz Arthur Friedrich Schuster FRS was a German-born British physicist known for his work in spectroscopy, electrochemistry, optics, X-radiography and the application of harmonic analysis to physics...

 expanded upon Crookes' experiments by placing metal plates parallel to the cathode rays and applying an electric potential
Electric potential
In classical electromagnetism, the electric potential at a point within a defined space is equal to the electric potential energy at that location divided by the charge there...

 between the plates. The field deflected the rays toward the positively charged plate, providing further evidence that the rays carried negative charge. By measuring the amount of deflection for a given level of current
Electric current
Electric current is a flow of electric charge through a medium.This charge is typically carried by moving electrons in a conductor such as wire...

, in 1890 Schuster was able to estimate the charge-to-mass ratio
Mass-to-charge ratio
The mass-to-charge ratio ratio is a physical quantity that is widely used in the electrodynamics of charged particles, e.g. in electron optics and ion optics. It appears in the scientific fields of lithography, electron microscopy, cathode ray tubes, accelerator physics, nuclear physics, Auger...

 of the ray components. However, this produced a value that was more than a thousand times greater than what was expected, so little credence was given to his calculations at the time.

In 1896, the British physicist J. J. Thomson
J. J. Thomson
Sir Joseph John "J. J." Thomson, OM, FRS was a British physicist and Nobel laureate. He is credited for the discovery of the electron and of isotopes, and the invention of the mass spectrometer...

, with his colleagues John S. Townsend
John Sealy Townsend
John Sealy Edward Townsend, FRS was a mathematical physicist who conducted various studies concerning the electrical conduction of gases and directly measured the electrical charge...

 and H. A. Wilson
Harold A. Wilson (physicist)
Harold Albert Wilson was an English physicist.He was born in York, England, the son of a railway clerk. His mother, Anne Gill, was the daughter of a farmer and innkeeper from Topcliffe. Harold had one sister, Lilian, who would marry Sir Owen W. Richardson.He was educated at Yorkshire College in...

, performed experiments indicating that cathode rays really were unique particles, rather than waves, atoms or molecules as was believed earlier. Thomson made good estimates of both the charge e and the mass m, finding that cathode ray particles, which he called "corpuscles," had perhaps one thousandth of the mass of the least massive ion known: hydrogen. He showed that their charge to mass ratio, e/m, was independent of cathode material. He further showed that the negatively charged particles produced by radioactive materials, by heated materials and by illuminated materials were universal. The name electron was again proposed for these particles by the Irish physicist George F. Fitzgerald
George FitzGerald
George Francis FitzGerald was an Irish professor of "natural and experimental philosophy" at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, during the last quarter of the 19th century....

, and the name has since gained universal acceptance.

While studying naturally fluorescing
Fluorescence
Fluorescence is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation of a different wavelength. It is a form of luminescence. In most cases, emitted light has a longer wavelength, and therefore lower energy, than the absorbed radiation...

 minerals in 1896, the French physicist Henri Becquerel
Henri Becquerel
Antoine Henri Becquerel was a French physicist, Nobel laureate, and the discoverer of radioactivity along with Marie Curie and Pierre Curie, for which all three won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics.-Early life:...

 discovered that they emitted radiation without any exposure to an external energy source. These radioactive
Radioactive decay
Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles . The emission is spontaneous, in that the atom decays without any physical interaction with another particle from outside the atom...

 materials became the subject of much interest by scientists, including the New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 physicist Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson OM, FRS was a New Zealand-born British chemist and physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics...

 who discovered they emitted particles. He designated these particles alpha
Alpha particle
Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium nucleus, which is classically produced in the process of alpha decay, but may be produced also in other ways and given the same name...

 and beta
Beta particle
Beta particles are high-energy, high-speed electrons or positrons emitted by certain types of radioactive nuclei such as potassium-40. The beta particles emitted are a form of ionizing radiation also known as beta rays. The production of beta particles is termed beta decay...

, on the basis of their ability to penetrate matter. In 1900, Becquerel showed that the beta rays emitted by radium
Radium
Radium is a chemical element with atomic number 88, represented by the symbol Ra. Radium is an almost pure-white alkaline earth metal, but it readily oxidizes on exposure to air, becoming black in color. All isotopes of radium are highly radioactive, with the most stable isotope being radium-226,...

 could be deflected by an electric field, and that their mass-to-charge ratio was the same as for cathode rays. This evidence strengthened the view that electrons existed as components of atoms.

The electron's charge was more carefully measured by the American physicist Robert Millikan
Robert Millikan
Robert A. Millikan was an American experimental physicist, and Nobel laureate in physics for his measurement of the charge on the electron and for his work on the photoelectric effect. He served as president of Caltech from 1921 to 1945...

 and Harvey Fletcher
Harvey Fletcher
Harvey Fletcher was an American physicist. Known as the "father of stereophonic sound" he is credited with the invention of the audiometer and hearing aid...

 in their oil-drop experiment
Oil-drop experiment
The oil drop experiment was an experiment performed by Robert Millikan and Harvey Fletcher in 1909 to measure the elementary electric charge ....

 of 1909, the results of which were published in 1911. This experiment used an electric field to prevent a charged droplet of oil from falling as a result of gravity. This device could measure the electric charge from as few as 1–150 ions with an error margin of less than 0.3%. Comparable experiments had been done earlier by Thomson's team, using clouds of charged water droplets generated by electrolysis, and in 1911 by Abram Ioffe
Abram Ioffe
Abram Fedorovich Ioffe was a prominent Russian/Soviet physicist. He received the Stalin Prize , the Lenin Prize , and the Hero of Socialist Labor . Ioffe was an expert in electromagnetism, radiology, crystals, high-impact physics, thermoelectricity and photoelectricity...

, who independently obtained the same result as Millikan using charged microparticles of metals, then published his results in 1913. However, oil drops were more stable than water drops because of their slower evaporation rate, and thus more suited to precise experimentation over longer periods of time.

Around the beginning of the twentieth century, it was found that under certain conditions a fast moving charged particle caused a condensation of supersaturated
Supersaturation
The term supersaturation refers to a solution that contains more of the dissolved material than could be dissolved by the solvent under normal circumstances...

 water vapor along its path. In 1911, Charles Wilson
Charles Thomson Rees Wilson
Charles Thomson Rees Wilson, CH, FRS was a Scottish physicist and meteorologist who received the Nobel Prize in physics for his invention of the cloud chamber.- Biography:...

 used this principle to devise his cloud chamber
Cloud chamber
The cloud chamber, also known as the Wilson chamber, is a particle detector used for detecting ionizing radiation. In its most basic form, a cloud chamber is a sealed environment containing a supersaturated vapor of water or alcohol. When a charged particle interacts with the mixture, it ionizes it...

, allowing the tracks of charged particles, such as fast-moving electrons, to be photographed.

Atomic theory



By 1914, experiments by physicists Ernest Rutherford, Henry Moseley
Henry Moseley
Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley was an English physicist. Moseley's outstanding contribution to the science of physics was the justification from physical laws of the previous empirical and chemical concept of the atomic number. This stemmed from his development of Moseley's law in X-ray spectra...

, James Franck
James Franck
James Franck was a German Jewish physicist and Nobel laureate.-Biography:Franck was born to Jacob Franck and Rebecca Nachum Drucker. Franck completed his Ph.D...

 and Gustav Hertz
Gustav Ludwig Hertz
Gustav Ludwig Hertz was a German experimental physicist and Nobel Prize winner, and a nephew of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz.-Biography:...

 had largely established the structure of an atom as a dense nucleus
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 of positive charge surrounded by lower-mass electrons. In 1913, Danish physicist Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

 postulated that electrons resided in quantized energy states, with the energy determined by the angular momentum of the electron's orbits about the nucleus. The electrons could move between these states, or orbits, by the emission or absorption of photons at specific frequencies. By means of these quantized orbits, he accurately explained the spectral line
Spectral line
A spectral line is a dark or bright line in an otherwise uniform and continuous spectrum, resulting from a deficiency or excess of photons in a narrow frequency range, compared with the nearby frequencies.- Types of line spectra :...

s of the hydrogen atom. However, Bohr's model failed to account for the relative intensities of the spectral lines and it was unsuccessful in explaining the spectra of more complex atoms.

Chemical bonds between atoms were explained by Gilbert Newton Lewis, who in 1916 proposed that a covalent bond
Covalent bond
A covalent bond is a form of chemical bonding that is characterized by the sharing of pairs of electrons between atoms. The stable balance of attractive and repulsive forces between atoms when they share electrons is known as covalent bonding....

 between two atoms is maintained by a pair of electrons shared between them. Later, in 1923, Walter Heitler
Walter Heitler
Walter Heinrich Heitler was a German physicist who made contributions to quantum electrodynamics and quantum field theory...

 and Fritz London
Fritz London
Fritz Wolfgang London was a German theoretical physicist. His fundamental contributions to the theories of chemical bonding and of intermolecular forces are today considered classic and are discussed in standard textbooks of physical chemistry.With his brother Heinz, he made a significant...

 gave the full explanation of the electron-pair formation and chemical bonding in terms of quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

. In 1919, the American chemist Irving Langmuir
Irving Langmuir
Irving Langmuir was an American chemist and physicist. His most noted publication was the famous 1919 article "The Arrangement of Electrons in Atoms and Molecules" in which, building on Gilbert N. Lewis's cubical atom theory and Walther Kossel's chemical bonding theory, he outlined his...

 elaborated on the Lewis' static model of the atom and suggested that all electrons were distributed in successive "concentric (nearly) spherical shells, all of equal thickness". The shells were, in turn, divided by him in a number of cells each containing one pair of electrons. With this model Langmuir was able to qualitatively explain the chemical properties
Chemical property
A chemical property is any of a material's properties that becomes evident during a chemical reaction; that is, any quality that can be established only by changing a substance's chemical identity...

 of all elements in the periodic table, which were known to largely repeat themselves according to the periodic law.

In 1924, Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Ernst Pauli was an Austrian theoretical physicist and one of the pioneers of quantum physics. In 1945, after being nominated by Albert Einstein, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his "decisive contribution through his discovery of a new law of Nature, the exclusion principle or...

 observed that the shell-like structure of the atom could be explained by a set of four parameters that defined every quantum energy state, as long as each state was inhabited by no more than a single electron. (This prohibition against more than one electron occupying the same quantum energy state became known as the Pauli exclusion principle
Pauli exclusion principle
The Pauli exclusion principle is the quantum mechanical principle that no two identical fermions may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. A more rigorous statement is that the total wave function for two identical fermions is anti-symmetric with respect to exchange of the particles...

.) The physical mechanism to explain the fourth parameter, which had two distinct possible values, was provided by the Dutch physicists Samuel Goudsmit and George Uhlenbeck. In 1925, Goudsmit and Uhlenbeck suggested that an electron, in addition to the angular momentum of its orbit, possesses an intrinsic angular momentum and magnetic dipole moment
Magnetic moment
The magnetic moment of a magnet is a quantity that determines the force that the magnet can exert on electric currents and the torque that a magnetic field will exert on it...

. The intrinsic angular momentum became known as spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

, and explained the previously mysterious splitting of spectral lines observed with a high-resolution spectrograph
Spectrometer
A spectrometer is an instrument used to measure properties of light over a specific portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, typically used in spectroscopic analysis to identify materials. The variable measured is most often the light's intensity but could also, for instance, be the polarization...

; this phenomenon is known as fine structure
Fine structure
In atomic physics, the fine structure describes the splitting of the spectral lines of atoms due to first order relativistic corrections.The gross structure of line spectra is the line spectra predicted by non-relativistic electrons with no spin. For a hydrogenic atom, the gross structure energy...

 splitting.

Quantum mechanics


{{see_also|History of quantum mechanics}}
In his 1924 dissertation {{lang|fr|Recherches sur la théorie des quanta}} (Research on Quantum Theory), French physicist Louis de Broglie hypothesized that all matter possesses a De Broglie wave similar to light
Light
Light or visible light is electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye, and is responsible for the sense of sight. Visible light has wavelength in a range from about 380 nanometres to about 740 nm, with a frequency range of about 405 THz to 790 THz...

. That is, under the appropriate conditions, electrons and other matter would show properties of either particles or waves. The corpuscular properties of a particle are demonstrated when it is shown to have a localized position in space along its trajectory at any given moment. Wave-like nature is observed, for example, when a beam of light is passed through parallel slits and creates interference patterns. In 1927, the interference effect was demonstrated with a beam of electrons by English physicist George Paget Thomson
George Paget Thomson
Sir George Paget Thomson, FRS was an English physicist and Nobel laureate in physics recognised for his discovery with Clinton Davisson of the wave properties of the electron by electron diffraction.-Biography:...

 with a thin metal film and by American physicists Clinton Davisson
Clinton Davisson
Clinton Joseph Davisson , was an American physicist who won the 1937 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of electron diffraction. Davisson shared the Nobel Prize with George Paget Thomson, who independently discovered electron diffraction at about the same time as Davisson.-Early...

 and Lester Germer
Lester Germer
Lester Halbert Germer was an American physicist. With Clinton Davisson, he proved the wave-particle duality of matter in the Davisson–Germer experiment, which was important to the development of the electron microscope. These studies supported the theoretical work of De Broglie. He also studied...

 using a crystal of nickel
Nickel
Nickel is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile...

.
The success of de Broglie's prediction led to the publication, by Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Schrödinger
Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger was an Austrian physicist and theoretical biologist who was one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, and is famed for a number of important contributions to physics, especially the Schrödinger equation, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933...

 in 1926, of the Schrödinger equation
Schrödinger equation
The Schrödinger equation was formulated in 1926 by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. Used in physics , it is an equation that describes how the quantum state of a physical system changes in time....

 that successfully describes how electron waves propagated. Rather than yielding a solution that determines the location of an electron over time, this wave equation can be used to predict the probability of finding an electron near a position. This approach was later called quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

, which provided an extremely close derivation to the energy states of an electron in a hydrogen atom. Once spin and the interaction between multiple electrons were considered, quantum mechanics allowed the configuration of electrons in atoms with higher atomic numbers than hydrogen to be successfully predicted.

In 1928, building on Wolfgang Pauli's work, Paul Dirac
Paul Dirac
Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, OM, FRS was an English theoretical physicist who made fundamental contributions to the early development of both quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics...

 produced a model of the electron - the Dirac equation
Dirac equation
The Dirac equation is a relativistic quantum mechanical wave equation formulated by British physicist Paul Dirac in 1928. It provided a description of elementary spin-½ particles, such as electrons, consistent with both the principles of quantum mechanics and the theory of special relativity, and...

, consistent with relativity
Principle of relativity
In physics, the principle of relativity is the requirement that the equations describing the laws of physics have the same form in all admissible frames of reference....

 theory, by applying relativistic and symmetry considerations to the hamiltonian
Hamiltonian (quantum mechanics)
In quantum mechanics, the Hamiltonian H, also Ȟ or Ĥ, is the operator corresponding to the total energy of the system. Its spectrum is the set of possible outcomes when one measures the total energy of a system...

 formulation of the quantum mechanics of the electro-magnetic field. In order to resolve some problems within his relativistic equation, in 1930 Dirac developed a model of the vacuum as an infinite sea of particles having negative energy, which was dubbed the Dirac sea
Dirac sea
The Dirac sea is a theoretical model of the vacuum as an infinite sea of particles with negative energy. It was first postulated by the British physicist Paul Dirac in 1930 to explain the anomalous negative-energy quantum states predicted by the Dirac equation for relativistic electrons...

. This led him to predict the existence of a positron, the antimatter
Antimatter
In particle physics, antimatter is the extension of the concept of the antiparticle to matter, where antimatter is composed of antiparticles in the same way that normal matter is composed of particles...

 counterpart of the electron. This particle was discovered in 1932 by Carl D. Anderson, who proposed calling standard electrons negatrons, and using electron as a generic term to describe both the positively and negatively charged variants. This usage of the term 'negatron' is still occasionally encountered today, and it may be shortened to 'negaton'.

In 1947 Willis Lamb, working in collaboration with graduate student Robert Rutherford, found that certain quantum states of hydrogen atom, which should have the same energy, were shifted in relation to each other, the difference being the Lamb shift. About the same time, Polykarp Kusch
Polykarp Kusch
Polykarp Kusch was a German-American physicist. In 1955 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics with Willis Eugene Lamb for his accurate determination that the magnetic moment of the electron was greater than its theoretical value, thus leading to reconsideration of—and...

, working with Henry M. Foley
Henry M. Foley
Henry Michael Foley was an Americanexperimental physicist.He was a professor and a leading physicist at Columbia University, later serving as chairman of the physics department. In 1948, Polykarp Kusch, working with Henry Foley, discovered the anomalous magnetic dipole moment of the electron...

, discovered the magnetic moment of the electron is slightly larger than predicted by Dirac's theory. This small difference was later called anomalous magnetic dipole moment
Anomalous magnetic dipole moment
In quantum electrodynamics, the anomalous magnetic moment of a particle is a contribution of effects of quantum mechanics, expressed by Feynman diagrams with loops, to the magnetic moment of that particle...

 of the electron. To resolve these issues, a refined theory called quantum electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics is the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved...

 was developed by Sin-Itiro Tomonaga
Sin-Itiro Tomonaga
was a Japanese physicist, influential in the development of quantum electrodynamics, work for which he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 along with Richard Feynman and Julian Schwinger.-Biography:...

, Julian Schwinger
Julian Schwinger
Julian Seymour Schwinger was an American theoretical physicist. He is best known for his work on the theory of quantum electrodynamics, in particular for developing a relativistically invariant perturbation theory, and for renormalizing QED to one loop order.Schwinger is recognized as one of the...

 and
Richard P. Feynman in the late 1940s.

Particle accelerators


With the development of the particle accelerator
Particle accelerator
A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...

 during the first half of the twentieth century, physicists began to delve deeper into the properties of subatomic particle
Subatomic particle
In physics or chemistry, subatomic particles are the smaller particles composing nucleons and atoms. There are two types of subatomic particles: elementary particles, which are not made of other particles, and composite particles...

s. The first successful attempt to accelerate electrons using electromagnetic induction
Electromagnetic induction
Electromagnetic induction is the production of an electric current across a conductor moving through a magnetic field. It underlies the operation of generators, transformers, induction motors, electric motors, synchronous motors, and solenoids....

 was made in 1942 by Donald Kerst. His initial betatron
Betatron
A betatron is a cyclotron developed by Donald Kerst at the University of Illinois in 1940 to accelerate electrons, but the concepts ultimately originate from Rolf Widerøe and previous development occurred in Germany through Max Steenbeck in the 1930s. The betatron is essentially a transformer with...

 reached energies of 2.3 MeV, while subsequent betatrons achieved 300 MeV. In 1947, synchrotron radiation
Synchrotron radiation
The electromagnetic radiation emitted when charged particles are accelerated radially is called synchrotron radiation. It is produced in synchrotrons using bending magnets, undulators and/or wigglers...

 was discovered with a 70 MeV electron synchrotron at General Electric
General Electric
General Electric Company , or GE, is an American multinational conglomerate corporation incorporated in Schenectady, New York and headquartered in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States...

. This radiation was caused by the acceleration of electrons, moving near the speed of light, through a magnetic field.

With a beam energy of 1.5 GeV, the first high-energy
particle collider
Collider
A collider is a type of a particle accelerator involving directed beams of particles.Colliders may either be ring accelerators or linear accelerators.-Explanation:...

 was ADONE
ADONE
ADONE was the first high-energy particle collider. It was operated from 1969 to 1993, by the National Institute of Nuclear Physics, in Frascati, Italy.-See also:*ADA collider*Laboratori Nazionali di Frascati...

, which began operations in 1968. This device accelerated electrons and positrons in opposite directions, effectively doubling the energy of their collision when compared to striking a static target with an electron. The Large Electron-Positron Collider
Large Electron-Positron Collider
The Large Electron–Positron Collider was one of the largest particle accelerators ever constructed.It was built at CERN, a multi-national centre for research in nuclear and particle physics near Geneva, Switzerland. LEP was a circular collider with a circumference of 27 kilometres built in a...

 (LEP) at CERN
CERN
The European Organization for Nuclear Research , known as CERN , is an international organization whose purpose is to operate the world's largest particle physics laboratory, which is situated in the northwest suburbs of Geneva on the Franco–Swiss border...

, which was operational from 1989 to 2000, achieved collision energies of 209 GeV and made important measurements for the Standard Model
Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...

 of particle physics.

Classification



In the Standard Model of particle physics, electrons belong to the group of subatomic particles called lepton
Lepton
A lepton is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. The best known of all leptons is the electron which governs nearly all of chemistry as it is found in atoms and is directly tied to all chemical properties. Two main classes of leptons exist: charged leptons , and neutral...

s, which are believed to be fundamental or elementary particle
Elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

s. Electrons have the lowest mass of any charged lepton (or electrically charged particle of any type) and belong to the first-generation
Generation (particle physics)
In particle physics, a generation is a division of the elementary particles. Between generations, particles differ by their quantum number and mass, but their interactions are identical....

 of fundamental particles. The second and third generation contain charged leptons, the muon
Muon
The muon |mu]] used to represent it) is an elementary particle similar to the electron, with a unitary negative electric charge and a spin of ½. Together with the electron, the tau, and the three neutrinos, it is classified as a lepton...

 and the tau, which are identical to the electron in charge, spin
Spin (physics)
In quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...

 and interactions
Fundamental interaction
In particle physics, fundamental interactions are the ways that elementary particles interact with one another...

, but are more massive. Leptons differ from the other basic constituent of matter, the quark
Quark
A quark is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei. Due to a phenomenon known as color confinement, quarks are never directly...

s, by their lack of strong interaction
Strong interaction
In particle physics, the strong interaction is one of the four fundamental interactions of nature, the others being electromagnetism, the weak interaction and gravitation. As with the other fundamental interactions, it is a non-contact force...

. All members of the lepton group are fermions, because they all have half-odd integer spin; the electron has spin {{frac|1|2}}.

Fundamental properties


The invariant mass
Invariant mass
The invariant mass, rest mass, intrinsic mass, proper mass or just mass is a characteristic of the total energy and momentum of an object or a system of objects that is the same in all frames of reference related by Lorentz transformations...

 of an electron is approximately {{val kilogram, or {{val|5.489|e=-4}} atomic mass unit
Atomic mass unit
The unified atomic mass unit or dalton is a unit that is used for indicating mass on an atomic or molecular scale. It is defined as one twelfth of the rest mass of an unbound neutral atom of carbon-12 in its nuclear and electronic ground state, and has a value of...

. On the basis of Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

's principle of mass–energy equivalence, this mass corresponds to a rest energy of 0.511 MeV. The ratio between the mass of a proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

 and that of an electron is about 1836. Astronomical measurements show that the proton-to-electron mass ratio
Proton-to-electron mass ratio
In physics, the proton-to-electron mass ratio, μ or β, is simply the rest mass of the proton divided by that of the electron...

 has held the same value for at least half the age of the universe
Age of the universe
The age of the universe is the time elapsed since the Big Bang posited by the most widely accepted scientific model of cosmology. The best current estimate of the age of the universe is 13.75 ± 0.13 billion years within the Lambda-CDM concordance model...

, as is predicted by the Standard Model.

Electrons have an electric charge
Electric charge
Electric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...

 of {{val|-1.602|e=-19}} coulomb, which is used as a standard unit of charge for subatomic particles. Within the limits of experimental accuracy, the electron charge is identical to the charge of a proton, but with the opposite sign. As the symbol e is used for the elementary charge
Elementary charge
The elementary charge, usually denoted as e, is the electric charge carried by a single proton, or equivalently, the absolute value of the electric charge carried by a single electron. This elementary charge is a fundamental physical constant. To avoid confusion over its sign, e is sometimes called...

, the electron is commonly symbolized by {{subatomicParticle|electron}}, where the minus sign indicates the negative charge. The positron is symbolized by {{subatomicParticle|positron}} because it has the same properties as the electron but with a positive rather than negative charge.

The electron has an intrinsic angular momentum
Angular momentum
In physics, angular momentum, moment of momentum, or rotational momentum is a conserved vector quantity that can be used to describe the overall state of a physical system...

 or spin of {{frac|1|2}}. This property is usually stated by referring to the electron as a spin-{{frac
Spin-½
In quantum mechanics, spin is an intrinsic property of all elementary particles. Fermions, the particles that constitute ordinary matter, have half-integer spin. Spin-½ particles constitute an important subset of such fermions. All known elementary fermions have a spin of ½.- Overview :Particles...

 particle. For such particles the spin magnitude is {{frac|{{radical|3}}|2}} ħ.This magnitude is obtained from the spin quantum number as
for quantum number s = {{frac|1|2}}.

See: {{cite book
| last = Gupta | first = M.C.
| year = 2001
| title = Atomic and Molecular Spectroscopy
| url = http://books.google.com/?id=0tIA1M6DiQIC&pg=PA81
| page = 81
| publisher = New Age Publishers
| isbn = 81-224-1300-5
}}
while the result of the measurement of a projection
Projection (mathematics)
Generally speaking, in mathematics, a projection is a mapping of a set which is idempotent, which means that a projection is equal to its composition with itself. A projection may also refer to a mapping which has a left inverse. Bot notions are strongly related, as follows...

 of the spin on any axis can only be ±{{frac|ħ|2}}. In addition to spin, the electron has an intrinsic magnetic moment
Electron magnetic dipole moment
In atomic physics, the electron magnetic dipole moment is the magnetic moment of an electron caused by its intrinsic property of spin.-Magnetic moment of an electron:...

 along its spin axis. It is approximately equal to one Bohr magneton,{{#tag:ref|Bohr magneton:|group=note}} which is a physical constant equal to {{val|9.27400915|(23)|e=-24|u=joule
Joule
The joule ; symbol J) is a derived unit of energy or work in the International System of Units. It is equal to the energy expended in applying a force of one newton through a distance of one metre , or in passing an electric current of one ampere through a resistance of one ohm for one second...

s per tesla
Tesla (unit)
The tesla is the SI derived unit of magnetic field B . One tesla is equal to one weber per square meter, and it was defined in 1960 in honour of the inventor, physicist, and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla...

}}. The orientation of the spin with respect to the momentum of the electron defines the property of elementary particles known as helicity.

The electron has no known substructure
Preon
In particle physics, preons are postulated "point-like" particles, conceived to be subcomponents of quarks and leptons. The word was coined by Jogesh Pati and Abdus Salam in 1974...

. Hence, it is defined or assumed to be a point particle
Point particle
A point particle is an idealization of particles heavily used in physics. Its defining feature is that it lacks spatial extension: being zero-dimensional, it does not take up space...

 with a point charge and no spatial extent. Observation of a single electron in a Penning trap
Penning trap
Penning traps are devices for the storage of charged particles using a homogeneous static magnetic field and a spatially inhomogeneous static electric field. This kind of trap is particularly well suited to precision measurements of properties of ions and stable subatomic particles which have...

 shows the upper limit of the particle's radius is 10−22 meters. There is a physical constant called the "classical electron radius
Classical electron radius
The classical electron radius, also known as the Lorentz radius or the Thomson scattering length, is based on a classical relativistic model of the electron...

", with the much larger value of {{val|2.8179|e=-15|u=m}}. However, the terminology comes from a simplistic calculation that ignores the effects of quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

; in reality, the so-called classical electron radius has little to do with the true fundamental structure of the electron.The classical electron radius is derived as follows. Assume that the electron's charge is spread uniformly throughout a spherical volume. Since one part of the sphere would repel the other parts, the sphere contains electrostatic potential energy. This energy is assumed to equal the electron's rest energy, defined by special relativity
Special relativity
Special relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".It generalizes Galileo's...

 (E = mc2).

From electrostatics
Electrostatics
Electrostatics is the branch of physics that deals with the phenomena and properties of stationary or slow-moving electric charges....

 theory, the potential energy
Potential energy
In physics, potential energy is the energy stored in a body or in a system due to its position in a force field or due to its configuration. The SI unit of measure for energy and work is the Joule...

 of a sphere with radius r and charge e is given by:
where ε0 is the vacuum permittivity. For an electron with rest mass m0, the rest energy is equal to:
where c is the speed of light in a vacuum. Setting them equal and solving for r gives the classical electron radius.

See: {{cite book
| last = Haken | first = H.
| last2 = Wolf | first2 = H.C.
| last3 = Brewer | first3 = W.D.
| year = 2005
| title = The Physics of Atoms and Quanta: Introduction to Experiments and Theory
| url = http://books.google.com/?id=SPrAMy8glocC&pg=PA70
| publisher = Springer
| page = 70
| isbn = 3-540-67274-5
}}


There are elementary particle
Elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

s that spontaneously decay
Particle decay
Particle decay is the spontaneous process of one elementary particle transforming into other elementary particles. During this process, an elementary particle becomes a different particle with less mass and an intermediate particle such as W boson in muon decay. The intermediate particle then...

 into less massive particles. An example is the muon
Muon
The muon |mu]] used to represent it) is an elementary particle similar to the electron, with a unitary negative electric charge and a spin of ½. Together with the electron, the tau, and the three neutrinos, it is classified as a lepton...

, which decays into an electron, a neutrino
Neutrino
A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with a half-integer spin, chirality and a disputed but small non-zero mass. It is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected...

 and an antineutrino, with a mean lifetime of {{val|2.2|e=-6}} seconds. However, the electron is thought to be stable on theoretical grounds: the electron is the least massive particle with non-zero electric charge, so its decay would violate charge conservation
Charge conservation
In physics, charge conservation is the principle that electric charge can neither be created nor destroyed. The net quantity of electric charge, the amount of positive charge minus the amount of negative charge in the universe, is always conserved...

. The experimental lower bound for the electron's mean lifetime is {{val|4.6|e=26}} years, at a 90% confidence level
Confidence interval
In statistics, a confidence interval is a particular kind of interval estimate of a population parameter and is used to indicate the reliability of an estimate. It is an observed interval , in principle different from sample to sample, that frequently includes the parameter of interest, if the...

.

Quantum properties


As with all particles, electrons can act as waves. This is called the wave–particle duality
Wave–particle duality
Wave–particle duality postulates that all particles exhibit both wave and particle properties. A central concept of quantum mechanics, this duality addresses the inability of classical concepts like "particle" and "wave" to fully describe the behavior of quantum-scale objects...

 and can be demonstrated using the double-slit experiment
Double-slit experiment
The double-slit experiment, sometimes called Young's experiment, is a demonstration that matter and energy can display characteristics of both waves and particles...

. The wave-like nature of the electron allows it to pass through two parallel slits simultaneously, rather than just one slit as would be the case for a classical particle. In quantum mechanics, the wave-like property of one particle can be described mathematically as a complex
Complex number
A complex number is a number consisting of a real part and an imaginary part. Complex numbers extend the idea of the one-dimensional number line to the two-dimensional complex plane by using the number line for the real part and adding a vertical axis to plot the imaginary part...

-valued function, the wave function, commonly denoted by the Greek letter psi (ψ). When the absolute value of this function is squared, it gives the probability that a particle will be observed near a location—a probability density
Probability density function
In probability theory, a probability density function , or density of a continuous random variable is a function that describes the relative likelihood for this random variable to occur at a given point. The probability for the random variable to fall within a particular region is given by the...

.


Electrons are identical particles
Identical particles
Identical particles, or indistinguishable particles, are particles that cannot be distinguished from one another, even in principle. Species of identical particles include elementary particles such as electrons, and, with some clauses, composite particles such as atoms and molecules.There are two...

 because they cannot be distinguished from each other by their intrinsic physical properties. In quantum mechanics, this means that a pair of interacting electrons must be able to swap positions without an observable change to the state of the system. The wave function of fermions, including electrons, is antisymmetric, meaning that it changes sign when two electrons are swapped; that is, {{nowrap begin}}ψ(r1, r2) = −ψ(r2, r1){{nowrap end}}, where the variables r1 and r2 correspond to the first and second electrons, respectively. Since the absolute value is not changed by a sign swap, this corresponds to equal probabilities. Bosons, such as the photon, have symmetric wave functions instead.

In the case of antisymmetry, solutions of the wave equation for interacting electrons result in a zero probability that each pair will occupy the same location or state. This is responsible for the Pauli exclusion principle
Pauli exclusion principle
The Pauli exclusion principle is the quantum mechanical principle that no two identical fermions may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. A more rigorous statement is that the total wave function for two identical fermions is anti-symmetric with respect to exchange of the particles...

, which precludes any two electrons from occupying the same quantum state. This principle explains many of the properties of electrons. For example, it causes groups of bound electrons to occupy different orbitals
Atomic orbital
An atomic orbital is a mathematical function that describes the wave-like behavior of either one electron or a pair of electrons in an atom. This function can be used to calculate the probability of finding any electron of an atom in any specific region around the atom's nucleus...

 in an atom, rather than all overlapping each other in the same orbit.

Virtual particles


{{Main|Virtual particle}}
Physicists believe that empty space may be continually creating pairs of virtual particles, such as a positron and electron, which rapidly annihilate
Annihilation
Annihilation is defined as "total destruction" or "complete obliteration" of an object; having its root in the Latin nihil . A literal translation is "to make into nothing"....

 each other shortly thereafter. The combination of the energy variation needed to create these particles, and the time during which they exist, fall under the threshold of detectability expressed by the Heisenberg uncertainty relation
Uncertainty principle
In quantum mechanics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle states a fundamental limit on the accuracy with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle, such as position and momentum, can be simultaneously known...

, ΔE · Δt ≥ ħ. In effect, the energy needed to create these virtual particles, ΔE, can be "borrowed" from the vacuum
Vacuum state
In quantum field theory, the vacuum state is the quantum state with the lowest possible energy. Generally, it contains no physical particles...

 for a period of time, Δt, so that their product is no more than the reduced Planck constant, {{nowrap|ħ ≈ {{val|6.6|e=-16|u=eV·s}}}}. Thus, for a virtual electron, Δt is at most {{val|1.3|e=-21|u=s}}.
While an electron–positron virtual pair is in existence, the coulomb force
Coulomb's law
Coulomb's law or Coulomb's inverse-square law, is a law of physics describing the electrostatic interaction between electrically charged particles. It was first published in 1785 by French physicist Charles Augustin de Coulomb and was essential to the development of the theory of electromagnetism...

 from the ambient electric field
Electric field
In physics, an electric field surrounds electrically charged particles and time-varying magnetic fields. The electric field depicts the force exerted on other electrically charged objects by the electrically charged particle the field is surrounding...

 surrounding an electron causes a created positron to be attracted to the original electron, while a created electron experiences a repulsion. This causes what is called vacuum polarization
Vacuum polarization
In quantum field theory, and specifically quantum electrodynamics, vacuum polarization describes a process in which a background electromagnetic field produces virtual electron–positron pairs that change the distribution of charges and currents that generated the original electromagnetic...

. In effect, the vacuum behaves like a medium having a dielectric permittivity more than unity. Thus the effective charge of an electron is actually smaller than its true value, and the charge decreases with increasing distance from the electron. This polarization was confirmed experimentally in 1997 using the Japanese TRISTAN particle accelerator. Virtual particles cause a comparable shielding effect
Shielding effect
The shielding effect describes the decrease in attraction between an electron and the nucleus in any atom with more than one electron shell. It is also referred to as the screening effect or atomic shielding.-Cause:...

 for the mass of the electron.

The interaction with virtual particles also explains the small (about 0.1%) deviation of the intrinsic magnetic moment of the electron from the Bohr magneton (the anomalous magnetic moment). The extraordinarily precise agreement of this predicted difference with the experimentally determined value is viewed as one of the great achievements of quantum electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics is the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved...

.

In classical physics
Classical physics
What "classical physics" refers to depends on the context. When discussing special relativity, it refers to the Newtonian physics which preceded relativity, i.e. the branches of physics based on principles developed before the rise of relativity and quantum mechanics...

, the angular momentum and magnetic moment of an object depend upon its physical dimensions. Hence, the concept of a dimensionless electron possessing these properties might seem inconsistent. The apparent paradox can be explained by the formation of virtual photons
Virtual particle
In physics, a virtual particle is a particle that exists for a limited time and space. The energy and momentum of a virtual particle are uncertain according to the uncertainty principle...

 in the electric field generated by the electron. These photons cause the electron to shift about in a jittery fashion (known as zitterbewegung
Zitterbewegung
Zitterbewegung is a theoretical rapid motion of elementary particles, in particular electrons, that obey the Dirac equation...

), which results in a net circular motion with precession
Precession
Precession is a change in the orientation of the rotation axis of a rotating body. It can be defined as a change in direction of the rotation axis in which the second Euler angle is constant...

. This motion produces both the spin and the magnetic moment of the electron. In atoms, this creation of virtual photons explains the Lamb shift observed in spectral lines.

Interaction


An electron generates an electric field that exerts an attractive force on a particle with a positive charge, such as the proton, and a repulsive force on a particle with a negative charge. The strength of this force is determined by Coulomb's inverse square law
Coulomb's law
Coulomb's law or Coulomb's inverse-square law, is a law of physics describing the electrostatic interaction between electrically charged particles. It was first published in 1785 by French physicist Charles Augustin de Coulomb and was essential to the development of the theory of electromagnetism...

. When an electron is in motion, it generates a magnetic field
Magnetic field
A magnetic field is a mathematical description of the magnetic influence of electric currents and magnetic materials. The magnetic field at any given point is specified by both a direction and a magnitude ; as such it is a vector field.Technically, a magnetic field is a pseudo vector;...

. The Ampère-Maxwell law relates the magnetic field to the mass motion of electrons (the current
Electric current
Electric current is a flow of electric charge through a medium.This charge is typically carried by moving electrons in a conductor such as wire...

) with respect to an observer. It is this property of induction which supplies the magnetic field that drives an electric motor
Electric motor
An electric motor converts electrical energy into mechanical energy.Most electric motors operate through the interaction of magnetic fields and current-carrying conductors to generate force...

. The electromagnetic field of an arbitrary moving charged particle is expressed by the Liénard–Wiechert potentials, which are valid even when the particle's speed is close to that of light (relativistic
Special relativity
Special relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".It generalizes Galileo's...

).


When an electron is moving through a magnetic field, it is subject to the Lorentz force
Lorentz force
In physics, the Lorentz force is the force on a point charge due to electromagnetic fields. It is given by the following equation in terms of the electric and magnetic fields:...

 that exerts an influence in a direction perpendicular to the plane defined by the magnetic field and the electron velocity. This centripetal force
Centripetal force
Centripetal force is a force that makes a body follow a curved path: it is always directed orthogonal to the velocity of the body, toward the instantaneous center of curvature of the path. The mathematical description was derived in 1659 by Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens...

 causes the electron to follow a helical
Helix
A helix is a type of smooth space curve, i.e. a curve in three-dimensional space. It has the property that the tangent line at any point makes a constant angle with a fixed line called the axis. Examples of helixes are coil springs and the handrails of spiral staircases. A "filled-in" helix – for...

 trajectory through the field at a radius called the gyroradius. The acceleration from this curving motion induces the electron to radiate energy in the form of synchrotron radiation.Radiation from non-relativistic electrons is sometimes termed cyclotron radiation
Cyclotron radiation
Cyclotron radiation is electromagnetic radiation emitted by moving charged particles deflected by a magnetic field. The Lorentz force on the particles acts perpendicular to both the magnetic field lines and the particles' motion through them, creating an acceleration of charged particles that...

.
The energy emission in turn causes a recoil of the electron, known as the Abraham-Lorentz-Dirac force, which creates a friction that slows the electron. This force is caused by a back-reaction
Back-reaction
In theoretical physics, Back-reaction is often necessary to calculate the behavior of a particle or an object in an external field.When the particle is considered to be infinitely light or have an infinitesimal charge, it is said that we deal with a probe and the back-reaction is neglected...

 of the electron's own field upon itself.

In quantum electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics
Quantum electrodynamics is the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved...

 the electromagnetic interaction between particles is mediated by photons. An isolated electron that is not undergoing acceleration is unable to emit or absorb a real photon; doing so would violate conservation of energy
Conservation of energy
The nineteenth century law of conservation of energy is a law of physics. It states that the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant over time. The total energy is said to be conserved over time...

 and momentum
Momentum
In classical mechanics, linear momentum or translational momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object...

. Instead, virtual photons can transfer momentum between two charged particles. It is this exchange of virtual photons that, for example, generates the Coulomb force. Energy emission can occur when a moving electron is deflected by a charged particle, such as a proton. The acceleration of the electron results in the emission of Bremsstrahlung
Bremsstrahlung
Bremsstrahlung is electromagnetic radiation produced by the deceleration of a charged particle when deflected by another charged particle, typically an electron by an atomic nucleus. The moving particle loses kinetic energy, which is converted into a photon because energy is conserved. The term is...

 radiation.
An inelastic collision between a photon (light) and a solitary (free) electron is called Compton scattering
Compton scattering
In physics, Compton scattering is a type of scattering that X-rays and gamma rays undergo in matter. The inelastic scattering of photons in matter results in a decrease in energy of an X-ray or gamma ray photon, called the Compton effect...

. This collision results in a transfer of momentum and energy between the particles, which modifies the wavelength of the photon by an amount called the Compton shift
Compton scattering
In physics, Compton scattering is a type of scattering that X-rays and gamma rays undergo in matter. The inelastic scattering of photons in matter results in a decrease in energy of an X-ray or gamma ray photon, called the Compton effect...

.The change in wavelength, Δλ, depends on the angle of the recoil, θ, as follows,
where c is the speed of light in a vacuum and me is the electron mass. See Zombeck (2007: 393, 396).
The maximum magnitude of this wavelength shift is h/mec, which is known as the Compton wavelength
Compton wavelength
The Compton wavelength is a quantum mechanical property of a particle. It was introduced by Arthur Compton in his explanation of the scattering of photons by electrons...

. For an electron, it has a value of {{val|2.43|e=-12|u=m}}. When the wavelength of the light is long (for instance, the wavelength of the visible light is 0.4–0.7 μm) the wavelength shift becomes negligible. Such interaction between the light and free electrons is called Thomson scattering
Thomson scattering
Thomson scattering is the elastic scattering of electromagnetic radiation by a free charged particle, as described by classical electromagnetism. It is just the low-energy limit of Compton scattering: the particle kinetic energy and photon frequency are the same before and after the scattering...

 or Linear Thomson scattering.

The relative strength of the electromagnetic interaction between two charged particles, such as an electron and a proton, is given by the fine-structure constant
Fine-structure constant
In physics, the fine-structure constant is a fundamental physical constant, namely the coupling constant characterizing the strength of the electromagnetic interaction. Being a dimensionless quantity, it has constant numerical value in all systems of units...

. This value is a dimensionless quantity formed by the ratio of two energies: the electrostatic energy of attraction (or repulsion) at a separation of one Compton wavelength, and the rest energy of the charge. It is given by α ≈ {{val|7.297353|e=-3}}, which is approximately equal to {{frac|1|137}}.

When electrons and positrons collide, they annihilate
Electron-positron annihilation
Electron–positron annihilation occurs when an electron and a positron collide. The result of the collision is the annihilation of the electron and positron, and the creation of gamma ray photons or, at higher energies, other particles:...

 each other, giving rise to two or more gamma ray photons. If the electron and positron have negligible momentum, a positronium atom
Positronium
Positronium is a system consisting of an electron and its anti-particle, a positron, bound together into an "exotic atom". Being unstable, the two particles annihilate each other to produce two gamma ray photons after an average lifetime of 125 ps or three gamma ray photons after 142 ns in...

 can form before annihilation results in two or three gamma ray photons totalling 1.022 MeV. On the other hand, high-energy photons may transform into an electron and a positron by a process called pair production
Pair production
Pair production refers to the creation of an elementary particle and its antiparticle, usually from a photon . For example an electron and its antiparticle, the positron, may be created...

, but only in the presence of a nearby charged particle, such as a nucleus.

In the theory of electroweak interaction
Electroweak interaction
In particle physics, the electroweak interaction is the unified description of two of the four known fundamental interactions of nature: electromagnetism and the weak interaction. Although these two forces appear very different at everyday low energies, the theory models them as two different...

, the left-handed
Chirality (physics)
A chiral phenomenon is one that is not identical to its mirror image . The spin of a particle may be used to define a handedness for that particle. A symmetry transformation between the two is called parity...

 component of electron's wavefunction forms a weak isospin
Weak isospin
In particle physics, weak isospin is a quantum number relating to the weak interaction, and parallels the idea of isospin under the strong interaction. Weak isospin is usually given the symbol T or I with the third component written as Tz, T3, Iz or I3...

 doublet with the electron neutrino
Neutrino
A neutrino is an electrically neutral, weakly interacting elementary subatomic particle with a half-integer spin, chirality and a disputed but small non-zero mass. It is able to pass through ordinary matter almost unaffected...

. This means that during weak interaction
Weak interaction
Weak interaction , is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, alongside the strong nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity. It is responsible for the radioactive decay of subatomic particles and initiates the process known as hydrogen fusion in stars...

s, electron neutrinos behave like electrons. Either member of this doublet can undergo a charged current
Charged current
The Charged current interaction is one of the ways in which subatomic particles can interact by means of the weak force. It is mediated by the and bosons....

 interaction by emitting or absorbing a {{SubatomicParticle|W boson|link=yes}} and be converted into the other member. Charge is conserved during this reaction because the W boson also carries a charge, canceling out any net change during the transmutation. Charged current interactions are responsible for the phenomenon of beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

 in a radioactive
Radioactive decay
Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles . The emission is spontaneous, in that the atom decays without any physical interaction with another particle from outside the atom...

 atom. Both the electron and electron neutrino can undergo a neutral current
Neutral current
Weak neutral current interactions are one of the ways in which subatomic particles can interact by means of the weak force. These interactions are mediated by the boson...

 interaction via a {{SubatomicParticle|Z boson0|link=yes}} exchange, and this is responsible for neutrino-electron elastic scattering
Elastic scattering
In scattering theory and in particular in particle physics, elastic scattering is one of the specific forms of scattering. In this process, the kinetic energy of the incident particles is conserved, only their direction of propagation is modified .-Electron elastic scattering:When an alpha particle...

.
{{clear}}

Atoms and molecules


{{Main|Atom}}

An electron can be bound to the nucleus of an atom by the attractive Coulomb force. A system of several electrons bound to a nucleus is called an atom. If the number of electrons is different from the nucleus' electrical charge, such an atom is called an ion
Ion
An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass between electrodes in a...

. The wave-like behavior of a bound electron is described by a function called an atomic orbital
Atomic orbital
An atomic orbital is a mathematical function that describes the wave-like behavior of either one electron or a pair of electrons in an atom. This function can be used to calculate the probability of finding any electron of an atom in any specific region around the atom's nucleus...

. Each orbital has its own set of quantum numbers such as energy, angular momentum and projection of angular momentum, and only a discrete set of these orbitals exist around the nucleus. According to the Pauli exclusion principal each orbital can be occupied by up to two electrons, which must differ in their spin quantum number
Spin quantum number
In atomic physics, the spin quantum number is a quantum number that parameterizes the intrinsic angular momentum of a given particle...

.

Electrons can transfer between different orbitals by the emission or absorption of photons with an energy that matches the difference in potential. Other methods of orbital transfer include collisions with particles, such as electrons, and the Auger effect. In order to escape the atom, the energy of the electron must be increased above its binding energy to the atom. This occurs, for example, with the photoelectric effect
Photoelectric effect
In the photoelectric effect, electrons are emitted from matter as a consequence of their absorption of energy from electromagnetic radiation of very short wavelength, such as visible or ultraviolet light. Electrons emitted in this manner may be referred to as photoelectrons...

, where an incident photon exceeding the atom's ionization energy
Ionization energy
The ionization energy of a chemical species, i.e. an atom or molecule, is the energy required to remove an electron from the species to a practically infinite distance. Large atoms or molecules have a low ionization energy, while small molecules tend to have higher ionization energies.The property...

 is absorbed by the electron.

The orbital angular momentum of electrons is quantized
Spatial quantization
In quantum mechanics, spatial quantization is the quantization of angular momentum in three-dimensional space. It results from the fact that the angular momentum of a rigid rotor is expressed in three dimensions, and is quantized....

. Because the electron is charged, it produces an orbital magnetic moment that is proportional to the angular momentum. The net magnetic moment of an atom is equal to the vector sum of orbital and spin magnetic moments of all electrons and the nucleus. The magnetic moment of the nucleus is negligible compared with that of the electrons. The magnetic moments of the electrons that occupy the same orbital (so called, paired electrons) cancel each other out.

The chemical bond
Chemical bond
A chemical bond is an attraction between atoms that allows the formation of chemical substances that contain two or more atoms. The bond is caused by the electromagnetic force attraction between opposite charges, either between electrons and nuclei, or as the result of a dipole attraction...

 between atoms occurs as a result of electromagnetic interactions, as described by the laws of quantum mechanics. The strongest bonds are formed by the sharing
Covalent bond
A covalent bond is a form of chemical bonding that is characterized by the sharing of pairs of electrons between atoms. The stable balance of attractive and repulsive forces between atoms when they share electrons is known as covalent bonding....

 or transfer
Electron transfer
Electron transfer is the process by which an electron moves from an atom or a chemical species to another atom or chemical species...

 of electrons between atoms, allowing the formation of molecule
Molecule
A molecule is an electrically neutral group of at least two atoms held together by covalent chemical bonds. Molecules are distinguished from ions by their electrical charge...

s. Within a molecule, electrons move under the influence of several nuclei, and occupy molecular orbital
Molecular orbital
In chemistry, a molecular orbital is a mathematical function describing the wave-like behavior of an electron in a molecule. This function can be used to calculate chemical and physical properties such as the probability of finding an electron in any specific region. The term "orbital" was first...

s; much as they can occupy atomic orbitals in isolated atoms. A fundamental factor in these molecular structures is the existence of electron pair
Electron pair
In chemistry, an electron pair consists of two electrons that occupy the same orbital but have opposite spins.Because electrons are fermions, the Pauli exclusion principle forbids these particles from having exactly the same quantum numbers. Therefore the only way to occupy the same orbital, i.e....

s. These are electrons with opposed spins, allowing them to occupy the same molecular orbital without violating the Pauli exclusion principle (much like in atoms). Different molecular orbitals have different spatial distribution of the electron density. For instance, in bonded pairs (i.e. in the pairs that actually bind atoms together) electrons can be found with the maximal probability in a relatively small volume between the nuclei. On the contrary, in non-bonded pairs electrons are distributed in a large volume around nuclei.

Conductivity



If a body has more or fewer electrons than are required to balance the positive charge of the nuclei, then that object has a net electric charge. When there is an excess of electrons, the object is said to be negatively charged. When there are fewer electrons than the number of protons in nuclei, the object is said to be positively charged. When the number of electrons and the number of protons are equal, their charges cancel each other and the object is said to be electrically neutral. A macroscopic body can develop an electric charge through rubbing, by the triboelectric effect
Triboelectric effect
The triboelectric effect is a type of contact electrification in which certain materials become electrically charged after they come into contact with another different material and are then separated...

.

Independent electrons moving in vacuum are termed free electrons. Electrons in metals also behave as if they were free. In reality the particles that are commonly termed electrons in metals and other solids are quasi-electrons—quasi-particles, which have the same electrical charge, spin and magnetic moment as real electrons but may have a different mass. When free electrons—both in vacuum and metals—move, they produce a net flow
Flow network
In graph theory, a flow network is a directed graph where each edge has a capacity and each edge receives a flow. The amount of flow on an edge cannot exceed the capacity of the edge. Often in Operations Research, a directed graph is called a network, the vertices are called nodes and the edges are...

 of charge called an electric current
Electric current
Electric current is a flow of electric charge through a medium.This charge is typically carried by moving electrons in a conductor such as wire...

, which generates a magnetic field. Likewise a current can be created by a changing magnetic field. These interactions are described mathematically by Maxwell's equations
Maxwell's equations
Maxwell's equations are a set of partial differential equations that, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electrodynamics, classical optics, and electric circuits. These fields in turn underlie modern electrical and communications technologies.Maxwell's equations...

.

At a given temperature, each material has an electrical conductivity that determines the value of electric current when an electric potential
Electric potential
In classical electromagnetism, the electric potential at a point within a defined space is equal to the electric potential energy at that location divided by the charge there...

 is applied. Examples of good conductors include metals such as copper and gold, whereas glass and Teflon
Polytetrafluoroethylene
Polytetrafluoroethylene is a synthetic fluoropolymer of tetrafluoroethylene that finds numerous applications. PTFE is most well known by the DuPont brand name Teflon....

 are poor conductors. In any dielectric
Dielectric
A dielectric is an electrical insulator that can be polarized by an applied electric field. When a dielectric is placed in an electric field, electric charges do not flow through the material, as in a conductor, but only slightly shift from their average equilibrium positions causing dielectric...

 material, the electrons remain bound to their respective atoms and the material behaves as an insulator. Most semiconductor
Semiconductor
A semiconductor is a material with electrical conductivity due to electron flow intermediate in magnitude between that of a conductor and an insulator. This means a conductivity roughly in the range of 103 to 10−8 siemens per centimeter...

s have a variable level of conductivity that lies between the extremes of conduction and insulation. On the other hand, metals
Metallic bond
Metallic bonding is the electrostatic attractive forces between the delocalized electrons, called conduction electrons, gathered in an "electron sea", and the positively charged metal ions...

 have an electronic band structure
Electronic band structure
In solid-state physics, the electronic band structure of a solid describes those ranges of energy an electron is "forbidden" or "allowed" to have. Band structure derives from the diffraction of the quantum mechanical electron waves in a periodic crystal lattice with a specific crystal system and...

 containing partially filled electronic bands. The presence of such bands allows electrons in metals to behave as if they were free or delocalized electron
Delocalized electron
In chemistry, delocalized electrons are electrons in a molecule, ion or solid metal that are not associated with a single atom or one covalent bond....

s. These electrons are not associated with specific atoms, so when an electric field is applied, they are free to move like a gas (called Fermi gas
Fermi gas
A Fermi gas is an ensemble of a large number of fermions. Fermions, named after Enrico Fermi, are particles that obey Fermi–Dirac statistics. These statistics determine the energy distribution of fermions in a Fermi gas in thermal equilibrium, and is characterized by their number density,...

) through the material much like free electrons.

Because of collisions between electrons and atoms, the drift velocity
Drift velocity
The drift velocity is the average velocity that a particle, such as an electron, attains due to an electric field. It can also be referred to as Axial Drift Velocity since particles defined are assumed to be moving along a plane. In general, an electron will 'rattle around' in a conductor at the...

 of electrons in a conductor is on the order of millimeters per second. However, the speed at which a change of current at one point in the material causes changes in currents in other parts of the material, the velocity of propagation
Velocity of propagation
The velocity factor , also called wave propagation speed or velocity of propagation , of a transmission medium is the speed at which a wavefront passes through the medium, relative to the...

, is typically about 75% of light speed. This occurs because electrical signals propagate as a wave, with the velocity dependent on the dielectric constant of the material.

Metals make relatively good conductors of heat, primarily because the delocalized electrons are free to transport thermal energy between atoms. However, unlike electrical conductivity, the thermal conductivity of a metal is nearly independent of temperature. This is expressed mathematically by the Wiedemann-Franz law, which states that the ratio of thermal conductivity
Thermal conductivity
In physics, thermal conductivity, k, is the property of a material's ability to conduct heat. It appears primarily in Fourier's Law for heat conduction....

 to the electrical conductivity is proportional to the temperature. The thermal disorder in the metallic lattice increases the electrical resistivity
Resistivity
Electrical resistivity is a measure of how strongly a material opposes the flow of electric current. A low resistivity indicates a material that readily allows the movement of electric charge. The SI unit of electrical resistivity is the ohm metre...

 of the material, producing a temperature dependence for electrical current.

When cooled below a point called the critical temperature
Critical point (thermodynamics)
In physical chemistry, thermodynamics, chemistry and condensed matter physics, a critical point, also called a critical state, specifies the conditions at which a phase boundary ceases to exist...

, materials can undergo a phase transition in which they lose all resistivity to electrical current, in a process known as superconductivity
Superconductivity
Superconductivity is a phenomenon of exactly zero electrical resistance occurring in certain materials below a characteristic temperature. It was discovered by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes on April 8, 1911 in Leiden. Like ferromagnetism and atomic spectral lines, superconductivity is a quantum...

. In BCS theory
BCS theory
BCS theory — proposed by Bardeen, Cooper, and Schrieffer in 1957 — is the first microscopic theory of superconductivity since its discovery in 1911. The theory describes superconductivity as a microscopic effect caused by a "condensation" of pairs of electrons into a boson-like state...

, this behavior is modeled by pairs of electrons entering a quantum state known as a Bose–Einstein condensate
Bose–Einstein condensate
A Bose–Einstein condensate is a state of matter of a dilute gas of weakly interacting bosons confined in an external potential and cooled to temperatures very near absolute zero . Under such conditions, a large fraction of the bosons occupy the lowest quantum state of the external potential, at...

. These Cooper pair
Cooper pair
In condensed matter physics, a Cooper pair or BCS pair is two electrons that are bound together at low temperatures in a certain manner first described in 1956 by American physicist Leon Cooper...

s have their motion coupled to nearby matter via lattice vibrations called phonon
Phonon
In physics, a phonon is a collective excitation in a periodic, elastic arrangement of atoms or molecules in condensed matter, such as solids and some liquids...

s, thereby avoiding the collisions with atoms that normally create electrical resistance. (Cooper pairs have a radius of roughly 100 nm, so they can overlap each other.) However, the mechanism by which higher temperature superconductors
Unconventional superconductor
Unconventional superconductors are materials that display superconductivity which does not conform to either the conventional BCS theory or the Nikolay Bogolyubov's theory or its extensions....

 operate remains uncertain.

Electrons inside conducting solids, which are quasi-particles themselves, when tightly confined at temperatures close to absolute zero
Absolute zero
Absolute zero is the theoretical temperature at which entropy reaches its minimum value. The laws of thermodynamics state that absolute zero cannot be reached using only thermodynamic means....

, behave as though they had split into two other quasiparticle
Quasiparticle
In physics, quasiparticles are emergent phenomena that occur when a microscopically complicated system such as a solid behaves as if it contained different weakly interacting particles in free space...

s: spinon
Spinon
Spinons are one of two quasiparticles, along with holons, that electrons in solids are able to split into during the process of spin–charge separation, when extremely tightly confined at temperatures close to absolute zero....

s and holon
Holon (physics)
Holons are one of two quasiparticles, along with spinons, that electrons in solids are able to split into during the process of spin–charge separation, when extremely tightly confined at temperatures close to absolute zero.Electrons, being of like charge, repel each other...

s. The former carries spin and magnetic moment, while the latter electrical charge.

Motion and energy


According to Einstein's
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

 theory of special relativity
Special relativity
Special relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".It generalizes Galileo's...

, as an electron's speed approaches the speed of light
Speed of light
The speed of light in vacuum, usually denoted by c, is a physical constant important in many areas of physics. Its value is 299,792,458 metres per second, a figure that is exact since the length of the metre is defined from this constant and the international standard for time...

, from an observer's point of view its relativistic mass
Mass in special relativity
Mass in special relativity incorporates the general understandings from the concept of mass-energy equivalence. Added to this concept is an additional complication resulting from the fact that "mass" is defined in two different ways in special relativity: one way defines mass as an invariant...

 increases, thereby making it more and more difficult to accelerate it from within the observer's frame of reference. The speed of an electron can approach, but never reach, the speed of light in a vacuum, c. However, when relativistic electrons—that is, electrons moving at a speed close to c—are injected into a dielectric medium such as water, where the local speed of light is significantly less than c, the electrons temporarily travel faster than light in the medium. As they interact with the medium, they generate a faint light called Cherenkov radiation
Cherenkov radiation
Cherenkov radiation is electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle passes through a dielectric medium at a speed greater than the phase velocity of light in that medium...

.


The effects of special relativity are based on a quantity known as the Lorentz factor
Lorentz factor
The Lorentz factor or Lorentz term appears in several equations in special relativity, including time dilation, length contraction, and the relativistic mass formula. Because of its ubiquity, physicists generally represent it with the shorthand symbol γ . It gets its name from its earlier...

, defined as where v is the speed of the particle. The kinetic energy Ke of an electron moving with velocity v is:
where me is the mass of electron. For example, the Stanford linear accelerator
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, originally named Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, is a United States Department of Energy National Laboratory operated by Stanford University under the programmatic direction of the U.S...

 can accelerate an electron to roughly 51 GeV.
Since an electron behaves as a wave, at a given velocity it has a characteristic de Broglie wavelength. This is given by λe = h/p where h is the Planck constant
Planck constant
The Planck constant , also called Planck's constant, is a physical constant reflecting the sizes of energy quanta in quantum mechanics. It is named after Max Planck, one of the founders of quantum theory, who discovered it in 1899...

 and p is the momentum. For the 51 GeV electron above, the wavelength is about {{val|2.4|e=-17|u=m}}, small enough to explore structures well below the size of an atomic nucleus.

Formation



The Big Bang
Big Bang
The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

 theory is the most widely accepted scientific theory to explain the early stages in the evolution of the Universe. For the first millisecond of the Big Bang, the temperatures were over 10 billion kelvin
Kelvin
The kelvin is a unit of measurement for temperature. It is one of the seven base units in the International System of Units and is assigned the unit symbol K. The Kelvin scale is an absolute, thermodynamic temperature scale using as its null point absolute zero, the temperature at which all...

s and photons had mean energies over a million electronvolt
Electronvolt
In physics, the electron volt is a unit of energy equal to approximately joule . By definition, it is equal to the amount of kinetic energy gained by a single unbound electron when it accelerates through an electric potential difference of one volt...

s. These photons were sufficiently energetic that they could react with each other to form pairs of electrons and positrons. Likewise, positron-electron pairs annihilated each other and emitted energetic photons:
{{SubatomicParticle|photon|link=yes}} + {{SubatomicParticle|photon}} ↔ {{SubatomicParticle|positron|link=yes}} + {{SubatomicParticle|electron}}

An equilibrium between electrons, positrons and photons was maintained during this phase of the evolution of the Universe. After 15 seconds had passed, however, the temperature of the universe dropped below the threshold where electron-positron formation could occur. Most of the surviving electrons and positrons annihilated each other, releasing gamma radiation that briefly reheated the universe.

For reasons that remain uncertain, during the process of leptogenesis
Leptogenesis (physics)
In physical cosmology, leptogenesis is the generic term for hypothetical physical processes that produced an asymmetry between leptons and antileptons in the very early universe, resulting in the dominance of leptons over antileptons...

 there was an excess in the number of electrons over positrons. Hence, about one electron in every billion survived the annihilation process. This excess matched the excess of protons over anti-protons, in a condition known as baryon asymmetry
Baryon asymmetry
The baryon asymmetry problem in physics refers to the apparent fact that there is an imbalance in baryonic matter and antibaryonic matter in the universe. Neither the standard model of particle physics, nor the theory of general relativity provide an obvious explanation for why this should be so;...

, resulting in a net charge of zero for the universe. The surviving protons and neutrons began to participate in reactions with each other—in the process known as nucleosynthesis
Nucleosynthesis
Nucleosynthesis is the process of creating new atomic nuclei from pre-existing nucleons . It is thought that the primordial nucleons themselves were formed from the quark–gluon plasma from the Big Bang as it cooled below two trillion degrees...

, forming isotopes of hydrogen and helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

, with trace amounts of lithium
Lithium
Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal that belongs to the alkali metal group of chemical elements. It is represented by the symbol Li, and it has the atomic number 3. Under standard conditions it is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element. Like all alkali metals, lithium is highly...

. This process peaked after about five minutes. Any leftover neutrons underwent negative beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

 with a half-life of about a thousand seconds, releasing a proton and electron in the process,
{{SubatomicParticle|Neutron|link=yes}} → {{SubatomicParticle|Proton|link=yes}} + {{SubatomicParticle|Electron}} + {{SubatomicParticle|Electron antineutrino|link=yes}}

For about the next {{val|300000}}–{{val|400000|u=years}}, the excess electrons remained too energetic to bind with atomic nuclei
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

. What followed is a period known as recombination
Timeline of the Big Bang
This timeline of the Big Bang describes the history of the universe according to the prevailing scientific theory of how the universe came into being, using the cosmological time parameter of comoving coordinates...

, when neutral atoms were formed and the expanding universe became transparent to radiation.
Roughly one million years after the big bang, the first generation of star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

s began to form. Within a star, stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis is the collective term for the nuclear reactions taking place in stars to build the nuclei of the elements heavier than hydrogen. Some small quantity of these reactions also occur on the stellar surface under various circumstances...

 results in the production of positrons from the fusion of atomic nuclei. These antimatter particles immediately annihilate with electrons, releasing gamma rays. The net result is a steady reduction in the number of electrons, and a matching increase in the number of neutrons. However, the process of stellar evolution
Stellar evolution
Stellar evolution is the process by which a star undergoes a sequence of radical changes during its lifetime. Depending on the mass of the star, this lifetime ranges from only a few million years to trillions of years .Stellar evolution is not studied by observing the life of a single...

 can result in the synthesis of radioactive isotopes. Selected isotopes can subsequently undergo negative beta decay, emitting an electron and antineutrino from the nucleus. An example is the cobalt-60
Cobalt-60
Cobalt-60, , is a synthetic radioactive isotope of cobalt. Due to its half-life of 5.27 years, is not found in nature. It is produced artificially by neutron activation of . decays by beta decay to the stable isotope nickel-60...

 (60Co) isotope, which decays to form nickel-60
Isotopes of nickel
Naturally occurring nickel is composed of five stable isotopes; , , , and with being the most abundant . 58Ni may decay by double beta-plus decay to 58Fe. 26 radioisotopes have been characterised with the most stable being with a half-life of 76,000 years, with a half-life of 100.1 years,...

 ({{SimpleNuclide2|Nickel|60}}).

At the end of its lifetime, a star with more than about 20 solar mass
Solar mass
The solar mass , , is a standard unit of mass in astronomy, used to indicate the masses of other stars and galaxies...

es can undergo gravitational collapse
Gravitational collapse
Gravitational collapse is the inward fall of a body due to the influence of its own gravity. In any stable body, this gravitational force is counterbalanced by the internal pressure of the body, in the opposite direction to the force of gravity...

 to form a black hole
Black hole
A black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that...

. According to classical physics
Classical physics
What "classical physics" refers to depends on the context. When discussing special relativity, it refers to the Newtonian physics which preceded relativity, i.e. the branches of physics based on principles developed before the rise of relativity and quantum mechanics...

, these massive stellar objects exert a gravitational attraction
Gravitation
Gravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. Gravitation is most familiar as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped...

 that is strong enough to prevent anything, even electromagnetic radiation
Electromagnetic radiation
Electromagnetic radiation is a form of energy that exhibits wave-like behavior as it travels through space...

, from escaping past the Schwarzschild radius
Schwarzschild radius
The Schwarzschild radius is the distance from the center of an object such that, if all the mass of the object were compressed within that sphere, the escape speed from the surface would equal the speed of light...

. However, it is believed that quantum mechanical effects may allow Hawking radiation
Hawking radiation
Hawking radiation is a thermal radiation with a black body spectrum predicted to be emitted by black holes due to quantum effects. It is named after the physicist Stephen Hawking, who provided a theoretical argument for its existence in 1974, and sometimes also after the physicist Jacob Bekenstein...

 to be emitted at this distance. Electrons (and positrons) are thought to be created at the event horizon
Event horizon
In general relativity, an event horizon is a boundary in spacetime beyond which events cannot affect an outside observer. In layman's terms it is defined as "the point of no return" i.e. the point at which the gravitational pull becomes so great as to make escape impossible. The most common case...

 of these stellar remnant
Compact star
In astronomy, the term compact star is used to refer collectively to white dwarfs, neutron stars, other exotic dense stars, and black holes. These objects are all small for their mass...

s.

When pairs of virtual particles (such as an electron and positron) are created in the vicinity of the event horizon, the random spatial distribution of these particles may permit one of them to appear on the exterior; this process is called quantum tunneling. The gravitational potential of the black hole can then supply the energy that transforms this virtual particle into a real particle, allowing it to radiate away into space. In exchange, the other member of the pair is given negative energy, which results in a net loss of mass-energy by the black hole. The rate of Hawking radiation increases with decreasing mass, eventually causing the black hole to evaporate away until, finally, it explodes.
Cosmic ray
Cosmic ray
Cosmic rays are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. They may produce secondary particles that penetrate the Earth's atmosphere and surface. The term ray is historical as cosmic rays were thought to be electromagnetic radiation...

s are particles traveling through space with high energies. Energy events as high as {{val|3.0|e=20|u=eV}} have been recorded. When these particles collide with nucleons in the Earth's atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

, a shower of particles is generated, including pion
Pion
In particle physics, a pion is any of three subatomic particles: , , and . Pions are the lightest mesons and they play an important role in explaining the low-energy properties of the strong nuclear force....

s. More than half of the cosmic radiation observed from the Earth's surface consists of muon
Muon
The muon |mu]] used to represent it) is an elementary particle similar to the electron, with a unitary negative electric charge and a spin of ½. Together with the electron, the tau, and the three neutrinos, it is classified as a lepton...

s. The particle called a muon is a lepton which is produced in the upper atmosphere by the decay of a pion.
{{SubatomicParticle|Pion-|link=yes}} → {{SubatomicParticle|Muon|link=yes}} + {{SubatomicParticle|Muon antineutrino|link=yes}}

A muon, in turn, can decay to form an electron or positron.
{{SubatomicParticle|Muon}} → {{SubatomicParticle|Electron}} + {{SubatomicParticle|Electron antineutrino|link=yes}} + {{SubatomicParticle|Muon neutrino|link=yes}}

Observation



Remote observation of electrons requires detection of their radiated energy. For example, in high-energy environments such as the corona
Corona
A corona is a type of plasma "atmosphere" of the Sun or other celestial body, extending millions of kilometers into space, most easily seen during a total solar eclipse, but also observable in a coronagraph...

 of a star, free electrons form a plasma
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

 that radiates energy due to Bremsstrahlung. Electron gas can undergo plasma oscillation
Plasma oscillation
Plasma oscillations, also known as "Langmuir waves" , are rapid oscillations of the electron density in conducting media such as plasmas or metals. The oscillations can be described as an instability in the dielectric function of a free electron gas. The frequency only depends weakly on the...

, which is waves caused by synchronized variations in electron density, and these produce energy emissions that can be detected by using radio telescope
Radio telescope
A radio telescope is a form of directional radio antenna used in radio astronomy. The same types of antennas are also used in tracking and collecting data from satellites and space probes...

s.

The frequency
Frequency
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency.The period is the duration of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency...

 of a photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

 is proportional to its energy. As a bound electron transitions between different energy levels of an atom, it will absorb or emit photons at characteristic frequencies. For instance, when atoms are irradiated by a source with a broad spectrum, distinct absorption lines
Spectral line
A spectral line is a dark or bright line in an otherwise uniform and continuous spectrum, resulting from a deficiency or excess of photons in a narrow frequency range, compared with the nearby frequencies.- Types of line spectra :...

 will appear in the spectrum of transmitted radiation. Each element or molecule displays a characteristic set of spectral lines, such as the hydrogen spectral series
Hydrogen spectral series
The emission spectrum of atomic hydrogen is divided into a number of spectral series, with wavelengths given by the Rydberg formula. These observed spectral lines are due to electrons moving between energy levels in the atom. The spectral series are important in astronomy for detecting the presence...

. Spectroscopic
Spectroscopy
Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction between matter and radiated energy. Historically, spectroscopy originated through the study of visible light dispersed according to its wavelength, e.g., by a prism. Later the concept was expanded greatly to comprise any interaction with radiative...

 measurements of the strength and width of these lines allow the composition and physical properties of a substance to be determined.

In laboratory conditions, the interactions of individual electrons can be observed by means of particle detector
Particle detector
In experimental and applied particle physics, nuclear physics, and nuclear engineering, a particle detector, also known as a radiation detector, is a device used to detect, track, and/or identify high-energy particles, such as those produced by nuclear decay, cosmic radiation, or reactions in a...

s, which allow measurement of specific properties such as energy, spin and charge. The development of the Paul trap
Quadrupole ion trap
A quadrupole ion trap exists in both linear and 3D varieties and refers to an ion trap that uses constant DC and radio frequency oscillating AC electric fields to trap ions. It is commonly used as a component of a mass spectrometer...

 and Penning trap
Penning trap
Penning traps are devices for the storage of charged particles using a homogeneous static magnetic field and a spatially inhomogeneous static electric field. This kind of trap is particularly well suited to precision measurements of properties of ions and stable subatomic particles which have...

 allows charged particles to be contained within a small region for long durations. This enables precise measurements of the particle properties. For example, in one instance a Penning trap was used to contain a single electron for a period of 10 months. The magnetic moment of the electron was measured to a precision of eleven digits, which, in 1980, was a greater accuracy than for any other physical constant.

The first video images of an electron's energy distribution were captured by a team at Lund University
Lund University
Lund University , located in the city of Lund in the province of Scania, Sweden, is one of northern Europe's most prestigious universities and one of Scandinavia's largest institutions for education and research, frequently ranked among the world's top 100 universities...

 in Sweden, February 2008. The scientists used extremely short flashes of light, called attosecond
1 E-18 s
An attosecond is an SI unit of time equal to 10−18 of a second. . For context, an attosecond is to a second what a second is to about 31.71 billion years, or twice the age of the universe....

 pulses, which allowed an electron's motion to be observed for the first time.

The distribution of the electrons in solid materials can be visualized by angle resolved photoemission spectroscopy
ARPES
Angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy , also known as ARUPS , is a direct experimental technique to observe the distribution of the electrons in the reciprocal space of solids...

 (ARPES). This technique employs the photoelectric effect to measure the reciprocal space
Reciprocal lattice
In physics, the reciprocal lattice of a lattice is the lattice in which the Fourier transform of the spatial function of the original lattice is represented. This space is also known as momentum space or less commonly k-space, due to the relationship between the Pontryagin duals momentum and...

—a mathematical representation of periodic structures that is used to infer the original structure. ARPES can be used to determine the direction, speed and scattering of electrons within the material.

Particle beams


Electron beams
Cathode ray
Cathode rays are streams of electrons observed in vacuum tubes. If an evacuated glass tube is equipped with two electrodes and a voltage is applied, the glass opposite of the negative electrode is observed to glow, due to electrons emitted from and travelling perpendicular to the cathode Cathode...

 are used in welding
Electron beam welding
Electron beam welding is a fusion welding process in which a beam of high-velocity electrons is applied to the materials being joined. The workpieces melt as the kinetic energy of the electrons is transformed into heat upon impact, and the filler metal, if used, also melts to form part of the weld...

, which allows energy densities up to {{val|e=7|u=W·cm−2}} across a narrow focus diameter of {{nowrap|0.1–1.3 mm}} and usually does not require a filler material. This welding technique must be performed in a vacuum, so that the electron beam does not interact with the gas prior to reaching the target, and it can be used to join conductive materials that would otherwise be considered unsuitable for welding.

Electron beam lithography
Electron beam lithography
Electron beam lithography is the practice of emitting a beam of electrons in a patterned fashion across a surface covered with a film , and of selectively removing either exposed or non-exposed regions of the resist...

 (EBL) is a method of etching semiconductors at resolutions smaller than a micron
Micrometre
A micrometer , is by definition 1×10-6 of a meter .In plain English, it means one-millionth of a meter . Its unit symbol in the International System of Units is μm...

. This technique is limited by high costs, slow performance, the need to operate the beam in the vacuum and the tendency of the electrons to scatter in solids. The last problem limits the resolution to about 10 nm. For this reason, EBL is primarily used for the production of small numbers of specialized integrated circuit
Integrated circuit
An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is an electronic circuit manufactured by the patterned diffusion of trace elements into the surface of a thin substrate of semiconductor material...

s.

Electron beam processing
Electron beam processing
Electron beam processing or electron irradiation is a process which involves using electrons, usually of high energy, to treat an object for a variety of purposes. This may take place under elevated temperatures and nitrogen atmosphere...

 is used to irradiate materials in order to change their physical properties or sterilize
Sterilization (microbiology)
Sterilization is a term referring to any process that eliminates or kills all forms of microbial life, including transmissible agents present on a surface, contained in a fluid, in medication, or in a compound such as biological culture media...

 medical and food products. In radiation therapy
Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy , radiation oncology, or radiotherapy , sometimes abbreviated to XRT or DXT, is the medical use of ionizing radiation, generally as part of cancer treatment to control malignant cells.Radiation therapy is commonly applied to the cancerous tumor because of its ability to control...

, electron beams are generated by linear accelerators
Linear particle accelerator
A linear particle accelerator is a type of particle accelerator that greatly increases the velocity of charged subatomic particles or ions by subjecting the charged particles to a series of oscillating electric potentials along a linear beamline; this method of particle acceleration was invented...

 for treatment of superficial tumors. Because an electron beam only penetrates to a limited depth before being absorbed, typically up to 5 cm for electron energies in the range 5–20 MeV, electron therapy
Electron therapy
Electron therapy or Electron Beam Therapy is a kind of external beam radiotherapy where electrons are directed to a tumor site.-Equipment:...

 is useful for treating skin lesions such as basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal-cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It rarely metastasizes or kills. However, because it can cause significant destruction and disfigurement by invading surrounding tissues, it is still considered malignant. Statistically, approximately 3 out of 10 Caucasians may develop a...

s. An electron beam can be used to supplement the treatment of areas that have been irradiated by X-ray
X-ray
X-radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation. X-rays have a wavelength in the range of 0.01 to 10 nanometers, corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz and energies in the range 120 eV to 120 keV. They are shorter in wavelength than UV rays and longer than gamma...

s.

Particle accelerator
Particle accelerator
A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...

s use electric fields to propel electrons and their antiparticles to high energies. As these particles pass through magnetic fields, they emit synchrotron radiation. The intensity of this radiation is spin dependent, which causes polarization of the electron beam—a process known as the Sokolov–Ternov effect.{{#tag:ref|The polarization of an electron beam means that the spins of all electrons point into one direction. In other words, the projections of the spins of all electrons onto their momentum vector have the same sign.|group=note}} The polarized electron beams can be useful for various experiments. Synchrotron
Synchrotron
A synchrotron is a particular type of cyclic particle accelerator in which the magnetic field and the electric field are carefully synchronised with the travelling particle beam. The proton synchrotron was originally conceived by Sir Marcus Oliphant...

 radiation can also be used for cooling
Radiation damping
Radiation damping in accelerator physics is a way of reducing the beam emittance of a high-velocity beam of charged particles.There are two main ways of using radiation damping to reduce the emittance of a particle beam—damping rings and undulators—and both rely on the same principle...

 the electron beams, which reduces the momentum spread of the particles. Once the particles have accelerated to the required energies, separate electron and positron beams are brought into collision. The resulting energy emissions are observed with particle detector
Particle detector
In experimental and applied particle physics, nuclear physics, and nuclear engineering, a particle detector, also known as a radiation detector, is a device used to detect, track, and/or identify high-energy particles, such as those produced by nuclear decay, cosmic radiation, or reactions in a...

s and are studied in particle physics
Particle physics
Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the existence and interactions of particles that are the constituents of what is usually referred to as matter or radiation. In current understanding, particles are excitations of quantum fields and interact following their dynamics...

.

Imaging


Low-energy electron diffraction (LEED) is a method of bombarding a crystalline material with a collimated beam
Collimated light
Collimated light is light whose rays are parallel, and therefore will spread slowly as it propagates. The word is related to "collinear" and implies light that does not disperse with distance , or that will disperse minimally...

 of electrons, then observing the resulting diffraction patterns to determine the structure of the material. The required energy of the electrons is typically in the range 20–200 eV. The reflection high energy electron diffraction (RHEED) technique uses the reflection of a beam of electrons fired at various low angles to characterize the surface of crystalline materials. The beam energy is typically in the range 8–20 keV and the angle of incidence is 1–4°.

The electron microscope
Electron microscope
An electron microscope is a type of microscope that uses a beam of electrons to illuminate the specimen and produce a magnified image. Electron microscopes have a greater resolving power than a light-powered optical microscope, because electrons have wavelengths about 100,000 times shorter than...

 directs a focused beam of electrons at a specimen. As the beam interacts with the material, some electrons change their properties, such as movement direction, angle, relative phase and energy. By recording these changes in the electron beam, microscopists can produce atomically resolved image of the material. In blue light, conventional optical microscope
Optical microscope
The optical microscope, often referred to as the "light microscope", is a type of microscope which uses visible light and a system of lenses to magnify images of small samples. Optical microscopes are the oldest design of microscope and were possibly designed in their present compound form in the...

s have a diffraction-limited resolution of about 200 nm. By comparison, electron microscopes are limited by the de Broglie wavelength of the electron. This wavelength, for example, is equal to 0.0037 nm for electrons accelerated across a 100,000-volt
Volt
The volt is the SI derived unit for electric potential, electric potential difference, and electromotive force. The volt is named in honor of the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta , who invented the voltaic pile, possibly the first chemical battery.- Definition :A single volt is defined as the...

 potential. The Transmission Electron Aberration-corrected Microscope
Transmission Electron Aberration-corrected Microscope
Transmission Electron Aberration-Corrected Microscope is a collaborative research project between four US laboratories and two companies. It is based at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California and involves Argonne National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and...

 is capable of sub-0.05 nm resolution, which is more than enough to resolve individual atoms. This capability makes the electron microscope a useful laboratory instrument for high resolution imaging. However, electron microscopes are expensive instruments that are costly to maintain.

There are two main types of electron microscopes: transmission
Transmission electron microscopy
Transmission electron microscopy is a microscopy technique whereby a beam of electrons is transmitted through an ultra thin specimen, interacting with the specimen as it passes through...

 and scanning
Scanning electron microscope
A scanning electron microscope is a type of electron microscope that images a sample by scanning it with a high-energy beam of electrons in a raster scan pattern...

. Transmission electron microscopes function in a manner similar to overhead projector
Overhead projector
An overhead projector is a variant of slide projector that is used to display images to an audience.-Mechanism:An overhead projector typically consists of a large box containing a very bright lamp and a fan to cool it. On top of the box is a large fresnel lens that collimates the light...

, with a beam of electrons passing through a slice of material then being projected by lenses on a photographic slide or a charge-coupled device
Charge-coupled device
A charge-coupled device is a device for the movement of electrical charge, usually from within the device to an area where the charge can be manipulated, for example conversion into a digital value. This is achieved by "shifting" the signals between stages within the device one at a time...

. In scanning electron microscopes, the image is produced by rastering
Raster scan
A raster scan, or raster scanning, is the rectangular pattern of image capture and reconstruction in television. By analogy, the term is used for raster graphics, the pattern of image storage and transmission used in most computer bitmap image systems...

 a finely focused electron beam, as in a TV set, across the studied sample. The magnifications range from 100× to 1,000,000× or higher for both microscope types. The scanning tunneling microscope
Scanning tunneling microscope
A scanning tunneling microscope is an instrument for imaging surfaces at the atomic level. Its development in 1981 earned its inventors, Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer , the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986. For an STM, good resolution is considered to be 0.1 nm lateral resolution and...

 uses quantum tunneling of electrons from a sharp metal tip into the studied material and can produce atomically resolved images of its surface.

Other


In the free electron laser
Free electron laser
A free-electron laser, or FEL, is a laser that shares the same optical properties as conventional lasers such as emitting a beam consisting of coherent electromagnetic radiation which can reach high power, but which uses some very different operating principles to form the beam...

 (FEL), a relativistic electron beam
Relativistic electron beam
Relativistic electron beams are streams of electrons moving at relativistic speeds. They are the lasing medium in free electron lasers to be used in atmospheric research conducted at such entities as the Pan-oceanic Environmental and Atmospheric Research Laboratory at the University of Hawaii...

 is passed through a pair of undulator
Undulator
An undulator is an insertion device from high-energy physics and usually part of a largerinstallation, a synchrotron storage ring. It consists of a periodic structure of dipole magnets . The static magnetic field is alternating along the length of the undulator with a wavelength \lambda_u...

s containing arrays of dipole magnet
Dipole magnet
A dipole magnet, in particle accelerators, is a magnet constructed to create a homogeneous magnetic field over some distance. Particle motion in that field will be circular in a plane perpendicular to the field and collinear to the direction of particle motion and free in the direction orthogonal...

s, whose fields are oriented in alternating directions. The electrons emit synchrotron radiation, which, in turn, coherently
Coherence (physics)
In physics, coherence is a property of waves that enables stationary interference. More generally, coherence describes all properties of the correlation between physical quantities of a wave....

 interacts with the same electrons. This leads to the strong amplification of the radiation field at the resonance
Resonance
In physics, resonance is the tendency of a system to oscillate at a greater amplitude at some frequencies than at others. These are known as the system's resonant frequencies...

 frequency. FEL can emit a coherent high-brilliance
Radiance
Radiance and spectral radiance are radiometric measures that describe the amount of radiation such as light or radiant heat that passes through or is emitted from a particular area, and falls within a given solid angle in a specified direction. They are used to characterize both emission from...

 electromagnetic radiation with a wide range of frequencies, from microwave
Microwave
Microwaves, a subset of radio waves, have wavelengths ranging from as long as one meter to as short as one millimeter, or equivalently, with frequencies between 300 MHz and 300 GHz. This broad definition includes both UHF and EHF , and various sources use different boundaries...

s to soft X-rays. These devices can be used in the future for manufacturing, communication and various medical applications, such as soft tissue surgery.

Electrons are at the heart of cathode ray tube
Cathode ray tube
The cathode ray tube is a vacuum tube containing an electron gun and a fluorescent screen used to view images. It has a means to accelerate and deflect the electron beam onto the fluorescent screen to create the images. The image may represent electrical waveforms , pictures , radar targets and...

s, which are used extensively as display devices in laboratory instruments, computer monitors and television set
Television set
A television set is a device that combines a tuner, display, and speakers for the purpose of viewing television. Television sets became a popular consumer product after the Second World War, using vacuum tubes and cathode ray tube displays...

s. In a photomultiplier
Photomultiplier
Photomultiplier tubes , members of the class of vacuum tubes, and more specifically phototubes, are extremely sensitive detectors of light in the ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum...

 tube, every photon striking the photocathode
Photocathode
A photocathode is a negatively charged electrode in a light detection device such as a photomultiplier or phototube that is coated with a photosensitive compound...

 initiates an avalanche of electrons that produces a detectable current pulse. Vacuum tube
Vacuum tube
In electronics, a vacuum tube, electron tube , or thermionic valve , reduced to simply "tube" or "valve" in everyday parlance, is a device that relies on the flow of electric current through a vacuum...

s use the flow of electrons to manipulate electrical signals, and they played a critical role in the development of electronics technology. However, they have been largely supplanted by solid-state devices
Solid state (electronics)
Solid-state electronics are those circuits or devices built entirely from solid materials and in which the electrons, or other charge carriers, are confined entirely within the solid material...

 such as the transistor
Transistor
A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify and switch electronic signals and power. It is composed of a semiconductor material with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals changes the current...

.

See also


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  • Anyon
    Anyon
    In physics, an anyon is a type of particle that occurs only in two-dimensional systems. It is a generalization of the fermion and boson concept.-From theory to reality:...

  • Covalent bonding
  • Electride
    Electride
    An electride is an ionic compound in which an electron is the anion. The first electrides to be studied in depth were solutions of alkali metals in ammonia. When sodium metal dissolves in ammonia, the result is a blue solution consisting of [Na6]+ and solvated electrons. Such solutions are powerful...

  • Electron bubble
    Electron bubble
    An electron bubble is the empty space created around a free electron in a cryogenic gas or liquid, such as neon or helium. They are typically very small, about 2 nm in diameter at atmospheric pressure.-Electron bubbles in helium:...

  • Exoelectron emission

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  • g-factor
  • Positronium
    Positronium
    Positronium is a system consisting of an electron and its anti-particle, a positron, bound together into an "exotic atom". Being unstable, the two particles annihilate each other to produce two gamma ray photons after an average lifetime of 125 ps or three gamma ray photons after 142 ns in...

  • Spintronics
    Spintronics
    Spintronics , also known as magnetoelectronics, is an emerging technology that exploits both the intrinsic spin of the electron and its associated magnetic moment, in addition to its fundamental electronic charge, in solid-state devices.An additional effect occurs when a spin-polarized current is...

  • Stern–Gerlach experiment
    Stern–Gerlach experiment
    Important in the field of quantum mechanics, the Stern–Gerlach experiment, named after Otto Stern and Walther Gerlach, is a 1922 experiment on the deflection of particles, often used to illustrate basic principles of quantum mechanics...

  • Zeeman effect
    Zeeman effect
    The Zeeman effect is the splitting of a spectral line into several components in the presence of a static magnetic field. It is analogous to the Stark effect, the splitting of a spectral line into several components in the presence of an electric field...

  • Periodic systems of small molecules
    Periodic Systems of Small Molecules
    Periodic systems of molecules are charts of molecules similar to the periodic table of the elements. Construction of such charts was initiated in the early 20th century and is still ongoing....


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External links


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