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NOTE: To maintain ease of editing, please do not wrap the citations into single line entries. --> }}The electron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , with a negative elementary electric charge. Electrons belong to the first generation of the lepton particle family, and are generally thought to be elementary particles because they have no known components or substructure. The electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton. Quantum mechanical properties of the electron include an intrinsic angular momentum ( spin) of a half-integer value, expressed in units of the reduced Planck constant, ħ. As it is a fermion, no two electrons can occupy the same quantum state, in accordance with the Pauli exclusion principle. Like all elementary particles, electrons exhibit properties of both particles and waves: they can collide with other particles and can be diffracted like light. The wave properties of electrons are easier to observe with experiments than those of other particles like neutrons and protons because electrons have a lower mass and hence a longer De Broglie wavelength for a given energy. Electrons play an essential role in numerous physical phenomena, such as electricity, magnetism, and thermal conductivity, and they also participate in gravitational, electromagnetic and weak interactions. Since an electron has charge, it has a surrounding electric field, and if that electron is moving relative to an observer it will generate a magnetic field. Electromagnetic fields produced from other sources (not those self-produced) will affect the motion of an electron according to the Lorentz force law. Electrons radiate or absorb energy in the form of photons when they are accelerated. Laboratory instruments are capable of trapping individual electrons as well as electron plasma by the use of electromagnetic fields. Special telescopes can detect electron plasma in outer space. Electrons are involved in many applications such as electronics, welding, cathode ray tubes, electron microscopes, radiation therapy, lasers, gaseous ionization detectors and particle accelerators. Interactions involving electrons with other subatomic particles are of interest in fields such as chemistry and nuclear physics. The Coulomb force interaction between the positive protons within atomic nuclei and the negative electrons without, allows the composition of the two known as atoms. Ionization or differences in the proportions of negative electrons versus positive nuclei changes the binding energy of an atomic system. The exchange or sharing of the electrons between two or more atoms is the main cause of chemical bonding. In 1838, British natural philosopher Richard Laming first hypothesized the concept of an indivisible quantity of electric charge to explain the chemical properties of atoms. Irish physicist George Johnstone Stoney named this charge 'electron' in 1891, and J. J. Thomson and his team of British physicists identified it as a particle in 1897. Electrons can also participate in nuclear reactions, such as nucleosynthesis in stars, where they are known as beta particles. Electrons can be created through beta decay of radioactive isotopes and in high-energy collisions, for instance when cosmic rays enter the atmosphere. The antiparticle of the electron is called the positron; it is identical to the electron except that it carries electrical and other charges of the opposite sign. When an electron collides with a positron, both particles can be totally annihilated, producing gamma ray photons.


The ancient Greeks noticed that amber attracted small objects when rubbed with fur. Along with lightning, this phenomenon is one of humanity's earliest recorded experiences with electricity. In his 1600 treatise , the English scientist William Gilbert coined the New Latin term , to refer to this property of attracting small objects after being rubbed. Both electric and electricity are derived from the Latin (also the root of the alloy of the same name), which came from the Greek word for amber, (). In the early 1700s, Francis Hauksbee and French chemist Charles François de Fay independently discovered what they believed were two kinds of frictional electricity—one generated from rubbing glass, the other from rubbing resin. From this, Du Fay theorized that electricity consists of two electrical fluids, vitreous and resinous, that are separated by friction, and that neutralize each other when combined. Between 1838 and 1851, British natural philosopher Richard Laming developed the idea that an atom is composed of a core of matter surrounded by subatomic particles that had unit electric charges. Stoney initially coined the term electrolion in 1881. Ten years later, he switched to electron to describe these elementary charges, writing in 1894: "... an estimate was made of the actual amount of this most remarkable fundamental unit of electricity, for which I have since ventured to suggest the name electron". A 1906 proposal to change to electrion failed because Hendrik Lorentz preferred to keep electron.


[[File:Cyclotron motion wider view.jpg|right|thumb|alt=A round glass vacuum tube with a glowing circular beam inside|A beam of electrons deflected in a circle by a magnetic field The German physicist Johann Wilhelm Hittorf studied electrical conductivity in gases: in 1869, he discovered a glow emitted from the cathode that increased in size with decrease in gas pressure. In 1876, the German physicist Eugen Goldstein showed that the rays from this glow cast a shadow, and he dubbed the rays cathode rays. During the 1870s, the English chemist and physicist Sir William Crookes developed the first cathode ray tube to have a high vacuum inside. While studying naturally fluorescing minerals in 1896, the French physicist Henri Becquerel discovered that they emitted radiation without any exposure to an external energy source. These radioactive materials became the subject of much interest by scientists, including the New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford who discovered they emitted particles. He designated these particles alpha and beta, on the basis of their ability to penetrate matter. The electron's charge was more carefully measured by the American physicists Robert Millikan and Harvey Fletcher in their oil-drop experiment of 1909, the results of which were published in 1911. This experiment used an electric field to prevent a charged droplet of oil from falling as a result of gravity. This device could measure the electric charge from as few as 1–150 ions with an error margin of less than 0.3%. Comparable experiments had been done earlier by Thomson's team, using clouds of charged water droplets generated by electrolysis, and in 1911 by Abram Ioffe, who independently obtained the same result as Millikan using charged microparticles of metals, then published his results in 1913.

Atomic theory

, showing states of electron with energy quantized by the number n. An electron dropping to a lower orbit emits a photon equal to the energy difference between the orbits.]] By 1914, experiments by physicists Ernest Rutherford, Henry Moseley, James Franck and Gustav Hertz had largely established the structure of an atom as a dense nucleus of positive charge surrounded by lower-mass electrons. In 1913, Danish physicist Niels Bohr postulated that electrons resided in quantized energy states, with their energies determined by the angular momentum of the electron's orbit about the nucleus. The electrons could move between those states, or orbits, by the emission or absorption of photons of specific frequencies. By means of these quantized orbits, he accurately explained the spectral lines of the hydrogen atom. Chemical bonds between atoms were explained by Gilbert Newton Lewis, who in 1916 proposed that a covalent bond between two atoms is maintained by a pair of electrons shared between them. In 1924, Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli observed that the shell-like structure of the atom could be explained by a set of four parameters that defined every quantum energy state, as long as each state was occupied by no more than a single electron. This prohibition against more than one electron occupying the same quantum energy state became known as the Pauli exclusion principle. , which is a probability distribution rather than an orbit. In the figure, the shading indicates the relative probability to "find" the electron, having the energy corresponding to the given quantum numbers, at that point.]] De Broglie's prediction of a wave nature for electrons led Erwin Schrödinger to postulate a wave equation for electrons moving under the influence of the nucleus in the atom. In 1926, this equation, the Schrödinger equation, successfully described how electron waves propagated. In 1928, building on Wolfgang Pauli's work, Paul Dirac produced a model of the electron – the Dirac equation, consistent with relativity theory, by applying relativistic and symmetry considerations to the hamiltonian formulation of the quantum mechanics of the electro-magnetic field. In 1947 Willis Lamb, working in collaboration with graduate student Robert Retherford, found that certain quantum states of the hydrogen atom, which should have the same energy, were shifted in relation to each other, the difference came to be called the Lamb shift. About the same time, Polykarp Kusch, working with Henry M. Foley, discovered the magnetic moment of the electron is slightly larger than predicted by Dirac's theory. This small difference was later called anomalous magnetic dipole moment of the electron. This difference was later explained by the theory of quantum electrodynamics, developed by Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, Julian Schwinger and Richard Feynman in the late 1940s.

Particle accelerators

With the development of the particle accelerator during the first half of the twentieth century, physicists began to delve deeper into the properties of subatomic particles.

Confinement of individual electrons

Individual electrons can now be easily confined in ultra small (, ) CMOS transistors operated at cryogenic temperature over a range of −269 °C (4  K) to about −258 °C (15  K). The electron wavefunction spreads in a semiconductor lattice and negligibly interacts with the valence band electrons, so it can be treated in the single particle formalism, by replacing its mass with the effective mass tensor.



In the Standard Model of particle physics, electrons belong to the group of subatomic particles called leptons, which are believed to be fundamental or elementary particles. Electrons have the lowest mass of any charged lepton (or electrically charged particle of any type) and belong to the first- generation of fundamental particles.

Fundamental properties

The invariant mass of an electron is approximately   atomic mass units. On the basis of Einstein's principle of mass–energy equivalence, this mass corresponds to a rest energy of 0.511 MeV. The ratio between the mass of a proton and that of an electron is about 1836. \textstyle\mu_{\mathrm{B}}=\frac{e\hbar}{2m_{\mathrm{e}}}.|group=note}} which is a physical constant equal to . The orientation of the spin with respect to the momentum of the electron defines the property of elementary particles known as helicity. The electron has no known substructure The issue of the radius of the electron is a challenging problem of the modern theoretical physics. The admission of the hypothesis of a finite radius of the electron is incompatible to the premises of the theory of relativity. On the other hand, a point-like electron (zero radius) generates serious mathematical difficulties due to the self-energy of the electron tending to infinity. Eduard Shpolsky, Atomic physics (Atomnaia fizika),second edition, 1951 Observation of a single electron in a Penning trap suggests the upper limit of the particle's radius to be 10−22 meters. From electrostatics theory, the potential energy of a sphere with radius r and charge e is given by: E_{\mathrm p} = \frac{e^2}{8\pi \varepsilon_0 r}, where ε0 is the vacuum permittivity. For an electron with rest mass m0, the rest energy is equal to: \textstyle E_{\mathrm p} = m_0 c^2, where c is the speed of light in a vacuum. Setting them equal and solving for r gives the classical electron radius. See: {{cite book | last = Haken | first = H. | last2 = Wolf | first2 = H.C. | last3 = Brewer | first3 = W.D. | year = 2005 | title = The Physics of Atoms and Quanta: Introduction to Experiments and Theory | url = https://books.google.com/?id=SPrAMy8glocC&pg=PA70 | publisher = Springer | page = 70 | isbn = 3-540-67274-5 }} There are elementary particles that spontaneously decay into less massive particles. An example is the muon, with a mean lifetime of  seconds, which decays into an electron, a muon neutrino and an electron antineutrino. The electron, on the other hand, is thought to be stable on theoretical grounds: the electron is the least massive particle with non-zero electric charge, so its decay would violate charge conservation. . If the particles swap position, the wave function inverts its sign.]] Electrons are identical particles because they cannot be distinguished from each other by their intrinsic physical properties. In quantum mechanics, this means that a pair of interacting electrons must be able to swap positions without an observable change to the state of the system. The wave function of fermions, including electrons, is antisymmetric, meaning that it changes sign when two electrons are swapped; that is, −ψ(r2, r1)}}, where the variables r1 and r2 correspond to the first and second electrons, respectively. Since the absolute value is not changed by a sign swap, this corresponds to equal probabilities. Bosons, such as the photon, have symmetric wave functions instead. In the case of antisymmetry, solutions of the wave equation for interacting electrons result in a zero probability that each pair will occupy the same location or state. This is responsible for the Pauli exclusion principle, which precludes any two electrons from occupying the same quantum state. This principle explains many of the properties of electrons. For example, it causes groups of bound electrons to occupy different orbitals in an atom, rather than all overlapping each other in the same orbit.

Virtual particles

In a simplified picture, every photon spends some time as a combination of a virtual electron plus its antiparticle, the virtual positron, which rapidly annihilate each other shortly thereafter. While an electron–positron virtual pair is in existence, the coulomb force from the ambient electric field surrounding an electron causes a created positron to be attracted to the original electron, while a created electron experiences a repulsion. This causes what is called vacuum polarization. In effect, the vacuum behaves like a medium having a dielectric permittivity more than unity. Thus the effective charge of an electron is actually smaller than its true value, and the charge decreases with increasing distance from the electron. The interaction with virtual particles also explains the small (about 0.1%) deviation of the intrinsic magnetic moment of the electron from the Bohr magneton (the anomalous magnetic moment). The apparent paradox (mentioned above in the properties subsection) of a point particle electron having intrinsic angular momentum and magnetic moment can be explained by the formation of virtual photons in the electric field generated by the electron. These photons cause the electron to shift about in a jittery fashion (known as zitterbewegung),


An electron generates an electric field that exerts an attractive force on a particle with a positive charge, such as the proton, and a repulsive force on a particle with a negative charge. The strength of this force is determined by Coulomb's inverse square law. When an electron is in motion, it generates a magnetic field. The Ampère-Maxwell law relates the magnetic field to the mass motion of electrons (the current) with respect to an observer. This property of induction supplies the magnetic field that drives an electric motor. When an electron is moving through a magnetic field, it is subject to the Lorentz force that acts perpendicularly to the plane defined by the magnetic field and the electron velocity. This centripetal force causes the electron to follow a helical trajectory through the field at a radius called the gyroradius. The acceleration from this curving motion induces the electron to radiate energy in the form of synchrotron radiation. An inelastic collision between a photon (light) and a solitary (free) electron is called Compton scattering. This collision results in a transfer of momentum and energy between the particles, which modifies the wavelength of the photon by an amount called the Compton shift.The change in wavelength, Δλ, depends on the angle of the recoil, θ, as follows, \textstyle \Delta \lambda = \frac{h}{m_{\mathrm{e}}c} (1 - \cos \theta), where c is the speed of light in a vacuum and me is the electron mass. See Zombeck (2007: 393, 396). The maximum magnitude of this wavelength shift is h/mec, which is known as the Compton wavelength. In the theory of electroweak interaction, the left-handed component of electron's wavefunction forms a weak isospin doublet with the electron neutrino. This means that during weak interactions, electron neutrinos behave like electrons. Either member of this doublet can undergo a charged current interaction by emitting or absorbing a and be converted into the other member. Charge is conserved during this reaction because the W boson also carries a charge, canceling out any net change during the transmutation. Charged current interactions are responsible for the phenomenon of beta decay in a radioactive atom. Both the electron and electron neutrino can undergo a neutral current interaction via a exchange, and this is responsible for neutrino-electron elastic scattering.

Atoms and molecules

An electron can be bound to the nucleus of an atom by the attractive Coulomb force. A system of one or more electrons bound to a nucleus is called an atom. If the number of electrons is different from the nucleus' electrical charge, such an atom is called an ion. The wave-like behavior of a bound electron is described by a function called an atomic orbital. Each orbital has its own set of quantum numbers such as energy, angular momentum and projection of angular momentum, and only a discrete set of these orbitals exist around the nucleus. According to the Pauli exclusion principle each orbital can be occupied by up to two electrons, which must differ in their spin quantum number. Electrons can transfer between different orbitals by the emission or absorption of photons with an energy that matches the difference in potential. The chemical bond between atoms occurs as a result of electromagnetic interactions, as described by the laws of quantum mechanics.


discharge consists primarily of a flow of electrons. If a body has more or fewer electrons than are required to balance the positive charge of the nuclei, then that object has a net electric charge. When there is an excess of electrons, the object is said to be negatively charged. When there are fewer electrons than the number of protons in nuclei, the object is said to be positively charged. When the number of electrons and the number of protons are equal, their charges cancel each other and the object is said to be electrically neutral. A macroscopic body can develop an electric charge through rubbing, by the triboelectric effect. Independent electrons moving in vacuum are termed free electrons. Electrons in metals also behave as if they were free. In reality the particles that are commonly termed electrons in metals and other solids are quasi-electrons— quasiparticles, which have the same electrical charge, spin, and magnetic moment as real electrons but might have a different mass. At a given temperature, each material has an electrical conductivity that determines the value of electric current when an electric potential is applied. Examples of good conductors include metals such as copper and gold, whereas glass and Teflon are poor conductors. In any dielectric material, the electrons remain bound to their respective atoms and the material behaves as an insulator. Most semiconductors have a variable level of conductivity that lies between the extremes of conduction and insulation. Because of collisions between electrons and atoms, the drift velocity of electrons in a conductor is on the order of millimeters per second. However, the speed at which a change of current at one point in the material causes changes in currents in other parts of the material, the velocity of propagation, is typically about 75% of light speed. Metals make relatively good conductors of heat, primarily because the delocalized electrons are free to transport thermal energy between atoms. However, unlike electrical conductivity, the thermal conductivity of a metal is nearly independent of temperature. This is expressed mathematically by the Wiedemann–Franz law, which states that the ratio of thermal conductivity to the electrical conductivity is proportional to the temperature. The thermal disorder in the metallic lattice increases the electrical resistivity of the material, producing a temperature dependence for electric current. When cooled below a point called the critical temperature, materials can undergo a phase transition in which they lose all resistivity to electric current, in a process known as superconductivity. In BCS theory, this behavior is modeled by pairs of electrons entering a quantum state known as a Bose–Einstein condensate. These Cooper pairs have their motion coupled to nearby matter via lattice vibrations called phonons, thereby avoiding the collisions with atoms that normally create electrical resistance. Electrons inside conducting solids, which are quasi-particles themselves, when tightly confined at temperatures close to absolute zero, behave as though they had split into three other quasiparticles: spinons, orbitons and holons. The effects of special relativity are based on a quantity known as the Lorentz factor, defined as \scriptstyle\gamma=1/ \sqrt{ 1-{v^2}/{c^2} } where v is the speed of the particle. The kinetic energy Ke of an electron moving with velocity v is: \displaystyle K_{\mathrm{e}} = (\gamma - 1)m_{\mathrm{e}} c^2, where me is the mass of electron. For example, the Stanford linear accelerator can accelerate an electron to roughly 51 GeV. Since an electron behaves as a wave, at a given velocity it has a characteristic de Broglie wavelength. This is given by λe = h/p where h is the Planck constant and p is the momentum. For the 51 GeV electron above, the wavelength is about , small enough to explore structures well below the size of an atomic nucleus.


caused by the collision of a photon with an atomic nucleus]] The Big Bang theory is the most widely accepted scientific theory to explain the early stages in the evolution of the Universe. + ↔ + An equilibrium between electrons, positrons and photons was maintained during this phase of the evolution of the Universe. After 15 seconds had passed, however, the temperature of the universe dropped below the threshold where electron-positron formation could occur. Most of the surviving electrons and positrons annihilated each other, releasing gamma radiation that briefly reheated the universe. For reasons that remain uncertain, during the annihilation process there was an excess in the number of particles over antiparticles. Hence, about one electron for every billion electron-positron pairs survived. This excess matched the excess of protons over antiprotons, in a condition known as baryon asymmetry, resulting in a net charge of zero for the universe. → + + For about the next –, the excess electrons remained too energetic to bind with atomic nuclei. → + A muon, in turn, can decay to form an electron or positron. → + +


are mostly caused by energetic electrons precipitating into the atmosphere. Remote observation of electrons requires detection of their radiated energy. For example, in high-energy environments such as the corona of a star, free electrons form a plasma that radiates energy due to Bremsstrahlung radiation. Electron gas can undergo plasma oscillation, which is waves caused by synchronized variations in electron density, and these produce energy emissions that can be detected by using radio telescopes. In laboratory conditions, the interactions of individual electrons can be observed by means of particle detectors, which allow measurement of specific properties such as energy, spin and charge. The development of the Paul trap and Penning trap allows charged particles to be contained within a small region for long durations. This enables precise measurements of the particle properties. For example, in one instance a Penning trap was used to contain a single electron for a period of 10 months. The first video images of an electron's energy distribution were captured by a team at Lund University in Sweden, February 2008. The scientists used extremely short flashes of light, called attosecond pulses, which allowed an electron's motion to be observed for the first time. Electron beams are used in welding. Electron-beam lithography (EBL) is a method of etching semiconductors at resolutions smaller than a micrometer. Electron beam processing is used to irradiate materials in order to change their physical properties or sterilize medical and food products. Linear particle accelerators generate electron beams for treatment of superficial tumors in radiation therapy. Electron therapy can treat such skin lesions as basal-cell carcinomas because an electron beam only penetrates to a limited depth before being absorbed, typically up to 5 cm for electron energies in the range 5–20 MeV. An electron beam can be used to supplement the treatment of areas that have been irradiated by X-rays. Particle accelerators use electric fields to propel electrons and their antiparticles to high energies. These particles emit synchrotron radiation as they pass through magnetic fields. The dependency of the intensity of this radiation upon spin polarizes the electron beam—a process known as the Sokolov–Ternov effect. Polarized electron beams can be useful for various experiments. Synchrotron radiation can also cool the electron beams to reduce the momentum spread of the particles. Electron and positron beams are collided upon the particles' accelerating to the required energies; particle detectors observe the resulting energy emissions, which particle physics studies .{{cite book | last = Chao | first = A.W. | last2 = Tigner | first2 = M. | year = 1999 | title = Handbook of Accelerator Physics and Engineering | url = https://books.google.com/?id=Z3J4SjftF1YC&pg=PA155 | publisher = World Scientific | pages = 155, 188 | isbn = 981-02-3500-3 }}


Low-energy electron diffraction (LEED) is a method of bombarding a crystalline material with a collimated beam of electrons and then observing the resulting diffraction patterns to determine the structure of the material. The required energy of the electrons is typically in the range 20–200 eV.

Other applications

In the free-electron laser (FEL), a relativistic electron beam passes through a pair of undulators that contain arrays of dipole magnets whose fields point in alternating directions. The electrons emit synchrotron radiation that coherently interacts with the same electrons to strongly amplify the radiation field at the resonance frequency. FEL can emit a coherent high- brilliance electromagnetic radiation with a wide range of frequencies, from microwaves to soft X-rays. These devices are used in manufacturing, communication, and in medical applications, such as soft tissue surgery. Electrons are important in cathode ray tubes, which have been extensively used as display devices in laboratory instruments, computer monitors and television sets.

See also



P.J. Mohr, B.N. Taylor, and D.B. Newell, "The 2014 CODATA Recommended Values of the Fundamental Physical Constants". This database was developed by J. Baker, M. Douma, and S. Kotochigova. Available: linkhttp://physics.nist.gov/constants. National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD 20899. }}

External links

  • {{cite web
| title = The Discovery of the Electron | url = http://www.aip.org/history/electron/ | publisher = American Institute of Physics, Center for History of Physics }}
  • {{cite web
| title = Particle Data Group | url = http://pdg.lbl.gov/ | publisher = University of California }}
  • {{cite book
| last = Bock | first = R.K. | last2 = Vasilescu | first2 = A. | year = 1998 | title = The Particle Detector BriefBook | url = http://physics.web.cern.ch/Physics/ParticleDetector/BriefBook/ | edition = 14th | publisher = Springer | isbn = 3-540-64120-3 }}
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