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Atom: The Pandora’s box for scientists

Shruti Sinha

Trying to put pen onto paper and making sense out of it, while taking you through a walk of imagery, has been one of my biggest strengths. However, when it came to writing about atomic structure, I was quite shook-up at first. It seemed like putting infinity into words, expect that an atom is the "anti-infinity". The smallest, thinnest thing I had seen, before coming to terms with atoms, was my patience while listening to someone speak incorrect grammar! 

Atoms originated as we progressed? A paranoid version of me says that it was all created for us to fall into a system; a system of thinking, questioning things and living in curiosity. Sadly, most of us are queer enough to question but not inquisitive enough to seek answers. But come on, we can’t find answers right away. We need a starting point, right? So let’s start from matter! Matter, if I remember my high school textbook definition correctly, is anything that has mass and occupies space. Basically, you and I and every entity on this planet or beyond the boundaries of this planet, everything is matter! But, do the thoughts in my brain count as matter too? I swear they occupy plenty of space, free of rent, in my mind and I have been weighed down by them millions of times! From matter, we come to elements. An element is a substance that consists of similar kinds of atoms. Each element has a name and a unique chemical symbol. Wait, atom! We missed atom! So did plenty of scientists for quite a few centuries until John Dalton first came up with a convincing argument. That churned up the subject of chemistry to a level that we were able to deduce most possible interactions in the universe. Thinking of the enormity of Dalton's discovery, sometimes I wonder if we give enough credit to our scientists who spent/spend endless nights in their labs to decipher some common yet unanswered phenomena. I bow my head to all those dignitaries! I was lucky enough to be born in an era of computational advances; I grew up with a monitor, CPU and a keyboard in my house. Back then, I used to believe that the keyboard had magical powers, powers that could light up the monitor and display whatever you typed. Then, one fine day, I was introduced to the periodic table and I would never see periodic chemistry and a keyboard in the same light ever again; I mean, the similarity just blows my mind away! The periodic table is structurally similar to a computer keyboard: a few elements on the top followed by rows and columns of elements; a few keys on the top succeeded by rows and columns of many other keys. The spacebar in a keyboard could be imagined to be a magical land where all lanthanides and actinides hide! Funny, isn’t it? But wait, things keep getting more and more complex! An atom was supposed to be the smallest indivisible entity until the electron, proton and neutron showed up, taking away the limelight from atom; much similar to our neighbour, Sharmaji’s son getting the highest marks in his class and overshadowing us simpletons. The tougher the paper got, the higher Sharma junior’s marks became! Jokes apart, can you imagine the conversation between electrons, protons and neutrons in an atom? All of them fighting about who makes the element unique? I don’t know who wins, but whom do you support? If you are generally negative, you will probably go with the electron; if you are generally positive, I bet you love the proton; and the rest are automatically pro-neutron! Have you ever noticed that we, as humans, tend to group ourselves with persons of similar interests? I guess it is all elementary! (Got the pun?) Elements, too, align themselves with other elements that show similar physical and chemical properties. Thus, we see a trend that dominates the periodic table. Certain answers have been sought, chemically, for most things that we couldn’t explain a few centuries back. Can we link them to who we are? Now that I look at a DNA molecule, I can’t help but visualize an entity with s and p orbitals, overlaps, sigma and pi bonds, electron domains and what not. The rainbow, which used to be a group of concentric circles filled with different colors each is now photons jumping and emitting colors at different wavelengths. What seemed to be ordinary is now spectacular! You just need to lift the blindfolds and look into my glasses. A world of marvel awaits you! Did I mention that I am an art enthusiast? You might say, “so what? Everybody likes any work of art!” But, you won’t have the same perspective as mine and you won’t see what I see! Name any phenomenon and watch me create a whole new picture out of it. Aurora borealis? I see a paint-brush with green colour on its tips, just dipped into the water container. Monet's water lilies? I see the reflection of the sun's photons in so many different ways. Of course, all of these phenomena are driven by the interactions of atoms, and atoms will always reign supreme. Hail King Atom!


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