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Definition: atom

(1) (Atom) Intel x86 chips. See Intel Atom.

(2) (Atom) A Web feed. See Atom syndication format.

(3) A single element. See atomic.

(4) A fundamental building block of matter. Atoms are microscopic solar systems that are made up of particles and mostly space. Within that space, electrons create an outer shell by circling a nucleus containing protons and neutrons of similar mass. Neutrons have no electrical charge, but protons have a positive charge. Since there are the same number of electrons as there are protons, and since electrons have a negative charge, the atom has a net charge of zero. See electron.

Since the days of ancient Greece, the atom was considered "the" smallest element of matter and indivisible, which is what "atomic" means. However, in the 1960s, we discovered that the nucleus was made up of more particles, which were named quarks and leptons. Perhaps some day, we will find those particles made up of even more particles in our never ending quest to discover what we are really made of.

Does It Matter?
World-renowned scientist and Nobel Prize winner Max Planck, one of the founding fathers of quantum theory, once made a remarkable comment about the structure of matter that has been widely quoted as follows:

"As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear-headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as the result of my research about atoms this much: THERE IS NO MATTER AS SUCH! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter."