Shop Windows to the Universe

Ready, Set, SCIENCE!, by the National Research Council, focuses on K-8 science classsrooms. Check out the other publications in our online store, as well as classroom materials.

Why are atoms "smashed" in an accelerator? What is learned by thatprocess? Why doesn't it set off a chain reaction like an atomic bomb?What is the difference between "smashing" and "fusion"? Since theydismantled the project here in Texas, I always wondered what was intendedto be learned by such a costly project.

Actually they don't "smash" atoms in accelerators anymore. What are "smashed" in accelerators now are parts of atoms. It's done by "crashing" these parts into each other and seeing what happens. The scientists are trying to figure out what the parts are made of. It's like taking your father's watch, smashing it with a hammer and watching the parts fly by. Then, from what you've seen, you try to figure out exactly how the watch was originally put together. (Don't try this at home!)

The reason a chain reaction doesn't occur is because the conditions aren't right in an accelerator for chain reactions to happen.

The difference between "smashing" and "fusion" is that one process (smashing) knocks things apart while the other (fusion) puts atoms together.

Scientists weren't exactly sure what they would learn from the SSC (Superconducting Super Collider) built in Texas. That is part of the reason they wanted it built. Every time something like it has been built in the past, exciting things were discovered.


Submitted by Mike (Texas, USA)
(October 22, 1997)



Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games section of our online store includes a climate change card game and the Traveling Nitrogen game!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

What are the retrograde motions of planets in the sky?

It depends on which type of motion you are asking about. If you take a birds-eye view from the top of the solar system all the planets orbit around the Sun in a counter-clockwise (or direct) direction....more

How do Astronauts Live in Space?

Have you ever wondered how astronauts live in space? Did you know they do a lot of the same things we do here on Earth? Astronauts eat, exercise and sleep just like we do. However, their food isn't always...more

How far is the Earth from the Sun, the Moon and all the other planets? How far are all of the planets from the Sun? Do you know of a software that tracks the planets in real-time?

There is a really neat internet program called Solar System Live that shows where all of the planets and the Sun are. If you go to that page, you'll see an image similar to the one on the left. Below the...more

Is it really true that man never really walked on the Moon?

The picture of the American Flag (the one put there by the Apollo astronauts) is waving (or straight out) in the wind. How could that be possible if there is no atmosphere on the Moon? Was it some sort...more

How many planets orbit the sun?

I was wondering if there is a new planet? Are there planets (a tenth planet?) after Pluto belonging to our solar system? What are the names of the new planets discovered in the solar system? Are there...more

Did the Big Bang create any black holes? Wouldn't the universe evolve differently if some of the original energy had disappeared in black holes?

When an object has a really high energy, it can form a black hole. This is called a primordial black hole. Primordial black holes were formed near the beginning of the universe. Primordial black holes...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF