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2.3.1. Matter: Atomic Thinking


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 2. Simple Science > 2.3. Science and Matter > 2.3.1. Atomic Thinking

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A very basic way of inventing with matter is to think of what is happening to the atoms and molecules. A nice and unscientific way of viewing atoms is as little sticky balls, which usually like first to stick to one another. Crystals stick in nice patterns, but mostly the sticking is fairly untidy and atoms will slide about as the material is flexed. In liquids and gases, of course, the atoms move about even more.

One of the interesting things that happens with atoms is at the surface or edge of things. Here, they only have around half the normal number of similar atoms to stick to, which tends to make them panic somewhat. This can result in strange surface effects such as microscopic deformations or bonding to what ever is next to it (this is how adhesives work). Surface atoms are also exposed to attack by external atoms and energies. The surface atoms will even sometimes shake free of the parent material and float away (as in evaporation) or the may be stolen away by more attractive external atoms or simply knocked off by the odd passing molecule of water of air or even a bird’s foot. When this happens, energies that are released can exacerbate the situation (or may be utilised by canny inventors!).

Molecules act like big atoms, but add to the complexity of the situation as they can now take different shapes, such as long thin molecules that can form flexible but strong fibres. They also can break up when they meet other molecules that react with them, or are exposed to energy sources such as ultraviolet radiation.

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