From the Universe to the Atom

From the Universe to the Atom

Humans have always been fascinated with the finite or infinite state of the Universe and whether there ever was a beginning to time. Where does all the matter that makes up the Universe come from? Ideas and theories about the beginnings of the Universe, based on sound scientific evidence, have come and gone. Current theories such as the Big Bang theory and claims of an expanding Universe are based on scientific evidence available today through investigations that use modern technologies. Evidence gathered on the nucleosynthesis reactions in stars allows scientists to understand how elements are made in the nuclear furnace of stars. On scales as large as the Universe to those as small as an atom, humans look to the sky for answers through astronomical observations of stars and galaxies.

Beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, experimental discoveries revolutionised the accepted understanding of the nature of matter on an atomic scale. Observations of the properties of matter and light inspired the development of better models of matter, which in turn have been modified or abandoned in the light of further experimental investigations.

By studying the development of the atomic models through the work of Thomson and Rutherford, who established the nuclear model of the atom – a positive nucleus surrounded by electrons – students further their understanding of the limitations of theories and models. The work of Bohr, de Broglie and, later, Schrödinger demonstrated that the quantum mechanical nature of matter was a better way to understand the structure of the atom. Experimental investigations of the nucleus have led to an understanding of radioactive decay, the ability to extract energy from nuclear fission and fusion, and a deeper understanding of the atomic model.

Particle accelerators have revealed that protons themselves are not fundamental, and have continued to provide evidence in support of the Standard Model of matter. In studying this module, students can appreciate that the fundamental particle model is forever being updated and that our understanding of the nature of matter remains incomplete.

Contextual Outline - Students learn to:

  • analyses and evaluates primary and secondary data and information PH11/12-5
  • solves scientific problems using primary and secondary data, critical thinking skills and scientific processes PH11/12-6
  • communicates scientific understanding using suitable language and terminology for a specific audience or purpose PH11/12-7
  • explains and analyses the evidence supporting the relationship between astronomical events and the nucleosynthesis of atoms and relates these to the development of the current model of the atom PH12-15

Extract from Physics Stage 6 Syllabus © 2017 NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA)