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In physics, the proton (Greek πρώτον / proton = first) is a subatomic particle with an electric charge of one positive fundamental unit 1.60217653(14)×10^−19 C, a diameter of about 1.65x10^-15 m , and a mass of (938.27231 MeV/c2) (1.00727646688(13) u), (1.6726x10^-27 kg), or about 1836 times the mass of an electron.
Ernest Rutherford is generally credited with the discovery of the proton. In 1918 Rutherford noticed that when alpha particles were shot into nitrogen gas, his scintillation detectors showed the signatures of hydrogen nuclei. Rutherford determined that the only place this hydrogen could have come from was the nitrogen, and therefore nitrogen must contain hydrogen nuclei. He thus suggested that the hydrogen nucleus, which was known to have an atomic number of 1, was an elementary particle.
Prior to Rutherford, Eugene Goldstein had observed canal rays, which were composed of positively charged ions. After the discovery of the electron by J.J. Thomson, Goldstein suggested that since the atom is electrically neutral there must be a positively charged particle in the atom and tried to discover it. He used the "canal rays" observed to be moving against the electron flow in cathode ray tubes. After the electron had been removed from particles inside the cathode ray tube they became positively charged and moved towards the cathode. Most of the charged particles passed through the cathode, it being perforated, and produced a glow on the glass. At this point, Goldstein believed that he had discovered the proton. When he calculated the ratio of charge to mass of this new particle (which in case of the electron was found to be the same for every gas that was used in the cathode ray tube) was found to be different when the gases used were changed. The reason was simple. What Goldstein assumed to be a proton was actually an ion. He gave up his work there, but promised that "he would return." However, he was widely ignored.
Protons and neutrons are both nucleons, which may be bound by the nuclear force into atomic nuclei. The nucleus of the most common isotope of the hydrogen atom is a single proton (it contains no neutrons). The nuclei of heavy hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) contain neutrons. All other types atoms are composed of two or more protons and various numbers of neutrons. The number of protons in the nucleus determines the chemical properties of the atom and thus which chemical element is represented; it is the number of both neutrons and protons in a nuclide which determine the particular isotope of an element.
CPT-symmetry puts strong constraints on the relative properties of particles and antiparticles and, therefore, is open to stringent tests. For example, the charges of the proton and antiproton must sum to exactly zero. This equality has been tested to one part in 10^8. The equality of their masses is also tested to better than one part in 10^8. By holding antiprotons in a Penning trap, the equality of the charge to mass ratio of the proton and the antiproton has been tested to 1 part in 9 x 10^11. The magnetic moment of the antiproton has been measured with error of 8 x 10^-3 nuclear Bohr magnetons, and is found to be equal and opposite to that of the proton.
Due to their stability and large mass (relative to electrons), protons are well suited to use in particle colliders such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and the Tevatron at Fermilab. Protons also make up a large majority of the cosmic rays which impinge on the Earth's atmosphere. Such high-energy proton collisions are more complicated to study than electron collisions, due to the composite nature of the proton. Understanding the details of proton structure requires quantum chromodynamics.
- Weisstein, Eric (1996–2007). Proton—from Eric Weisstein's World of Physics. Wolfram Research, Inc.. Retrieved on 2007-01-16.
- Gilreath, Esmarch S.: "Fundamental Concepts of Inorganic Chemistry.", page 5. New York: McGraw–Hill, 1958.
- Adair, Robert K.: "The Great Design: Particles, Fields, and Creation.", page 214. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
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