“A careful analysis of the process of observation in atomic physics has shown that the subatomic particles have no meaning as isolated entities but can only be understood as interconnections between the preparation of an experiment and the subsequent measurement.” ~ Erwin Schrödinger
Matryoshka are diminishing self-similar hollow dolls that can be nested one inside another. Matryoshka derives from the Russian peasant name for females: Matriosha or Matryona, derived from the Latin root mater, meaning mother.
In 1890, Russian painter Sergey Malyutin designed the first Russian Matryoshka doll, which was carved by Vasily Zvyozdochkin, a Russian craftsman. Malyutin painted the dolls.
Matryoshka dolls are sometimes called babushka dolls, the Russian word for grandmother.
Like the dolls themselves, the history of the Matryoshka doll is nested. The concept predates Malyutin, who was inspired by a wooden doll brought to Russia from the Japanese island of Honshu. The Japanese claim that their dolls derived from the earlier work of a Russian monk, who had created a doll to represent a Buddhist sage.
Except for enlightened sages, existence was taken at face value for all but a wink of time in human history. As human mathematics evolved, everyday energetics became codified by classical mechanics.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, physicists’ theorizing greatly disturbed physics’ status quo. With special relativity concluding that perceptions were relative to the observer, Einstein inadvertently forwarded a startling metaphysical triumph of subjectivity over objectivity.
General relativity trashed gravity as a fundamental force, showing it instead as a distortion in the spacetime fabric. Contemporaneously came the unraveling of particulate matter.
Human conception of what comprises the constituents of Nature has evolved: from 4 basic elements (air, fire, water, earth), to atoms, to a smorgasbord of elementary particles so small that they can only be inferred, bifurcated between those that are matter (fermions) and those that keep matter working (bosons).
Getting past Empedocles’ purely theoretical construct of there being 4 basic elements, ancient Greek chemists considered that the fundamental particles of matter were chemical elements. The term atom comes from the ancient Greek adjective atomos, meaning indivisible. The philosophical concept of chemical elementalism as the fundamental unit of matter was commonly held in Greece and India by the 4th century bce.
5th century bce Greek rationalist philosopher Democritus and the shadowy Leucippus considered atoms as the bedrock of being: physically, but not geometrically indivisible; of infinite number and kinds, with different shapes and sizes; and forever in motion, whirling in empty space. This conceptualization held sway into the 19th century.
In proposing unalterable chemical elements with specific “atomic” weights, English physicist and chemist John Dalton whittled elemental particles to molecules in 1803, but had no conception that molecules consisted of atoms.
Italian physicist Amedeo Avogadro, seeking more accurate estimates of atomic weight, corrected Dalton’s flaw in 1811 by distinguishing between molecules and atoms.
Particle theory jelled by pondering the haphazard movements of floating debris. In 60 bce, Lucretius described the random motion of dust particles, which he then used as a proof for the existence of atoms.
In 1827, Scottish botanist Robert Brown wondered about dust particles from pollen grains floating in water, constantly jiggling for no apparent reason. Dutch physiologist Jan Ingenhousz had earlier observed the same effect in floating charcoal, but by virtue of broader publication, Brown won the name game. Brownian motion is the seemingly random movement of particles suspended in a fluid (gas or liquid).
Particle theory firmed with Einstein’s 1905 mathematical model to explain Brownian motion, which allowed him to determine the size of atoms and calculate how many atoms are packed into a mole (the standard molecular weight). French physicist Jean Perrin experimentally validated this facet of atomic theory in 1908.
Atoms were considered the smallest possible division of matter until 1897, when English physicist J.J. Thomson found that there was something smaller: what he termed corpuscles, the subatomic particle now called the electron. Several scientists before Thomson had suggested that atoms were built up from a more fundamental unit but conjectured that this unit was about the size of the smallest atom, hydrogen.
Thomson found that cathode rays could be deflected electrically, and figured that subatomic corpuscles emerged from gas atoms. He concluded that atoms were divisible into constituent corpuscles, whereby he concocted a plum-pudding model of atomic structure.
To explain the overall neutral charge of an atom, as contrasted to the corpuscle (electron) negative charge, Thomson proposed in 1903 that corpuscles floated in a sea of positive charges, with electrons embedded like plums in a pudding, though Thomson’s model posited rapidly moving corpuscles instead of plopped plums.
Japanese physicist Hantaro Nagaoka rejected Thomson’s model on the grounds that opposite charges are impenetrable. Nagaoka proposed a planetary model in 1904, in which a positively charged nucleus was surrounded by revolving negatively charged electrons. Nagaoka had in mind Saturn, with its satellite rings.
One of Thomson’s pupils, English physicist and chemist Ernest Rutherford, disproved the atomic plum pudding in 1909. At the behest of Rutherford, German physicist Hans Geiger and New Zealand physicist Ernest Marsden performed their famous “gold foil experiment”: shooting a beam of radium alpha particles at gold foil, whereupon they measured a widespread deflection of radioactive decay. If Thomson’s plum-pudding atomic model had been correct, the deflection would have been at most a few degrees.
Following Nagaoka, Rutherford proposed his planetary atomic model in 1911: a cloud of negatively charged electrons swirling in orbits over a compact positively charged nucleus. Only a concentrated charge could have accounted for the heavy deflection found in the gold foil experiment. This subatomic particle was the proton, which Rutherford identified in 1918.
Rutherford was working with Niels Bohr, who conjectured in 1913 that electrons moved in specific orbits which were regulated via Planck’s quantum of action. (Planck’s quantum of action, also known as the Planck constant, is the essential granularity of existence.)
In 1919, Rutherford became the first to transmute one element into another, converting nitrogen into oxygen through the nuclear reaction 14N + α → 17O + proton.
Rutherford speculated in 1921 about how atomic nuclei stayed together rather than flying apart. Rutherford concocted neutrons, which could, via some attractive nuclear force, somehow compensate for the repelling effect of the positively charged protons. Neutrons account for much of the extra mass of atoms heavier than hydrogen.
Rutherford’s neutron hypothesis was experimentally shown in 1932 by his associate, English physicist James Chadwick. Chadwick would later join the American Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to close World War II with a most spectacular war crime. For his valiant effort in developing the first weapon of mass destruction, Chadwick was knighted in 1945.
“Non-cooperation in military matters should be a vital part of the moral code of basic scientists.” ~ Albert Einstein