What is an electron?

We explain to you what an electron is, what are its characteristics and how was the discovery of this subatomic particle.

  1. What is an electron?

An electron is  a type of subatomic particle that has a negative electrical charge , and is actively orbiting the atomic nucleus (composed of protons and neutrons ), which in turn has a positive charge.

The size of an electron  is 1836 times smaller than protons  (they contribute 0.06% of the total mass of an atom), and having no substructures or divisions, it is considered a fundamental particle of matter .

Electrons play an essential role in certain physical forces and phenomena of nature, such as electricity , magnetism or thermal conductivity , and largely determine atomic junctions, both ionic (loss or gain of electrons) or covalent (of joint use of electrons). When they are in displacement, electrons generate electric fields , which can affect the particles around them.

The origin of the electrons, according to the most accepted theory regarding the origin of the universe , suggests that they were formed during the first milliseconds of the so-called  Big  Bang , whose temperatures exceeded 1010 K, sufficient to form pairs of positrons (e +) – electrons (e-) that they annihilated each other by having opposite electric charge.

For unknown reasons, the number of the latter was much higher than that of their opposites, thus being able to survive to begin to be attracted to the first protons when the universe had already cooled sufficiently, thus forming the most elementary atoms of nature.

The amount of electrons in the atoms of matter determines that it has a neutral charge (equilibrium between protons and electrons), positive (shortage of electrons) or negative (excess of electrons).

At the same time, there are “free” electrons that can move from one atom to another of matter, thus generating electrical flows or magnetic fields, depending on the temperature at which they are. This allows the creation of electricity, using variable magnetic field materials, which are known as conductive materials.

  1. Characteristics of an electron

Electrons belong to the first generation of fundamental particles.

Electrons belong to a type of fundamental particles called  leptons , which would be the minimum particles that make up all matter, including protons and neutrons.

Thus, electrons are the leptons with the smallest mass electric charge in the set, and belong to the first generation of fundamental particles (the second generation is the muon and tau particles).

The mass of an electron is always 9.019 x 10-31 kg and its respective electric charge is -1602 x 10-19 coulomb , which represents a charge identical to that of the proton, but of opposite sign. That measure is known as the  elementary charge  of nature.

  1. Who discovered the electron?

The electron  was discovered at the end of the 19th century , thanks to successive investigations in the field of cathode rays, in which it was discovered that instead of energy waves they were electronegatively charged particles, initially called corpuscles and that had one thousandth of the mass of the hydrogen ion , the least massive of all. The funny thing is that by varying the nature of the gas used, these particles retained all their characteristics.

Subsequently, the Irishman George Francis Fitzgerald baptized them “electrons” , a name that from the beginning enjoyed general acceptance. The belonging of these particles to the structure of the atom was postulated around 1914, thanks to the experiments of Rutherford, Moseley, Franck and Hertz, and the atomic model proposed by Niels Bohr previously.

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