What is a proton? has probably been the starting line from physics teachers across the land for some time. For those of us that were getting waylaid in the bike sheds or have yet to have the lesson, we have a simple short explanation.
Protons were first detected by W.Wien in 1898 and J.J. Thomson in 1910. Proton is the Greek for ‘First’ and it was first used by Ernest Rutherford to name the hydrogen nucleus when he was conducting experiments in 1920.
Protons are sub atomic particles and are currently being smashed against each other in the Large Hadron Collider. It is a positively charged particle found in the nuclei of all atoms. The charge on the proton is equal and opposite to the charge on the electron, although the mass of the proton is 1,836 times greater.
The atom of each chemical element has a characteristic number of protons in the nucleus; the common isotope of hydrogen has a nucleus consisting of a single proton. Protons are approximately 10-13 cm in diametre, although their size is not sharply defined.
The atomic number of each atom is the number protons it contains and this, together with the equal number of electrons, determines the chemical properties of the corresponding element. Protons or positively charged ions, are partly responsible for heat radiation, for the conduction of electricity, and also from gamma radiation from excited nuclei.
High velocity protons are used in particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider to probe the structure of atomic nuclei.