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Thread: The Electron.

  1. #1 The Electron. 
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    A few days ago I was watching, for the first time, a repeat BBC documentary titled "How small is the Universe" and it mentioned some surprising (at least for me) information about the electron.
    According to Wiki the electron has no known components or substructure. It is defined as a fundamental particle with no spatial extent. In other words it does not occupy or take up space.
    The documentary stated that the electron had been split. I looked at Google and came up with several sources of information. An article from "Nature" said that the the electron had been split, into a holon and spinon, as far back as 1996. In 2012 Swiss and German researchers split the electron into a spinon and an orbiton.
    I know that popular science books, magazine articles, TV programmes etc. can be misleading. Sometimes it is probably unavoidable because of the difficulty of translating the complex mathematical ideas and language, required by physics, into the language of everyday words.
    I have always thought "Nature" to be a reputable magazine but really my question is whether the information given, about the electron, is misleading because of the need to simplify the complex findings of scientific research for the popular market?


    Last edited by Halliday; February 25th, 2013 at 04:15 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Halliday View Post
    A few days ago I was watching, for the first time, a repeat BBC documentary titled "How small is the Universe" and it mentioned some surprising (at least for me) information about the electron.
    According to Wiki the electron has no known components or substructure. It is defined as a fundamental particle with no spatial extent. In other words it does not occupy or take up space.
    The documentary stated that the electron had been split. I looked at Google and came up with several sources of information. An article from "Nature" said that the the electron had been split, into a holon and spinon, as far back as 1996. In 2012 Swiss and German researchers split the electron into a spinon and an orbitron.
    I know that popular science books, magazine articles, TV programmes etc. can be misleading. Sometimes it is probably unavoidable because of the difficulty of translating the complex mathematical ideas and language, required by physics, into the language of everyday words.
    I have always thought "Nature" to be a reputable magazine but really my question is whether the information given, about the electron, is misleading because of the need to simplify the complex findings of scientific research for the popular market?
    But consider that the electron does have a measurable mass small as it may be. That does at least imply it does occupy and take up space.


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    The electron is an elementary particle with no detected internal structure. The terms spinon, holon, and orbiton refer to the states of electrons in solids. When an electron is moving around in a solid, neighboring electrons adjust their positions slightly. This leads to a "collective" state where more than one electron contributes to observed properties and their changes. Which specific electrons are contributing to the properties changes from moment to moment. In solid state the collective state may, for simplicity, still be referred to as an "electron." Spinon, holon, and orbiton refer to different features of this collective state.

    Basically, what we have is a case of "physics is complicated," and "solid-state physics is more complicated yet."

    Edited to correct spelling of "orbiton."
    Last edited by mvb; February 24th, 2013 at 02:40 PM.
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    There is a little bit of background on Wikipedia: Spinon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Note that these are "quasiparticles", which means that the electron is not really split, it can just be analysed in that way. This isn't too surprising as electrons can be thought of as a collection of properties that are bound together. In special circumstances, some of those properties can be treated separately. And remember that an electron doesn't have a specific location (hence the ability to tunnel) and, as I understand it, all we are seeing here is some properties being localised differently from others (temporarily).

    Quote Originally Posted by arKane View Post
    But consider that the electron does have a measurable mass small as it may be. That does at least imply it does occupy and take up space.
    Does it? I'm not sure there is any requirement, at the quantum level, for mass to have volume.
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    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mvb View Post
    The electron is an elementary particle with no detected internal structure. The terms spinon, holon, and orbitron refer to the states of electrons in solids. When an electron is moving around in a solid, neighboring electrons adjust their positions slightly. This leads to a "collective" state where more than one electron contributes to observed properties and their changes. Which specific electrons are contributing to the properties changes from moment to moment. In solid state the collective state may, for simplicity, still be referred to as an "electron." Spinon, holon, and orbitron refer to different features of this collective state.

    Basically, what we have is a case of "physics is complicated," and "solid-state physics is more complicated yet."
    Nice explanation. Thanks! Someone should add that to the Wikipedia page ...

    So somewhat analogous to holes as current carriers in semiconductors?
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    No, this is more likely.
    And don't forget the orbiton!
    Spinon (and holon) production only happens under certain special circumstances.

    Dang, beaten to the punch.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post

    Nice explanation. Thanks! Someone should add that to the Wikipedia page ...

    So somewhat analogous to holes as current carriers in semiconductors?
    Thanks for the compliment. "Analogous to holes" is exactly what is going on with this terminology.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Does it? I'm not sure there is any requirement, at the quantum level, for mass to have volume.
    Any mass has an effect on space, and it's that effect that does take up space. At larger scales consider the singularity attributed to a black hole. No volume but a very large effect on space.

    Note - Many people believe that singularities are real. I don't happen to be one of them, but it did make a good example to use.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Does it? I'm not sure there is any requirement, at the quantum level, for mass to have volume.
    Since mass varies significantly with velocity (at high velocities), would not the volume of the mass approach zero as the velocity approached the speed of light, due to length contraction? jocular
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    There is a little bit of background on Wikipedia: Spinon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Note that these are "quasiparticles", which means that the electron is not really split, it can just be analysed in that way. This isn't too surprising as electrons can be thought of as a collection of properties that are bound together. In special circumstances, some of those properties can be treated separately. And remember that an electron doesn't have a specific location (hence the ability to tunnel) and, as I understand it, all we are seeing here is some properties being localised differently from others (temporarily).
    I like your description of a way we can think about the electron. It is similar to a comment made by the writer Brian Stableford where he defined the electron as "a bundle of mathematical properties."
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