The Electron

29 Sep, 2022 530 Physics

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss an atomic particle that’s become inseparable from modernity. JJ Thomson discovered the electron 125 years ago, so revealing that atoms, supposedly the smallest things, were made of even smaller things. He pictured them inside an atomic ball like a plum pudding, with others later identifying their place outside the nucleus - and it is their location on the outer limit that has helped scientists learn so much about electrons and with electrons. We can use electrons to reveal the secrets of other particles and, while electricity exists whether we understand electrons or not, the applications of electricity and electrons grow as our knowledge grows. Many questions, though, remain unanswered.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Victoria Martin No other episodes
    Professor of Collider Physics at the University of Edinburgh
  • Harry Cliff 2 episodes
    Research Fellow in Particle Physics at the University of Cambridge
  • Frank Close 15 episodes
    Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics and Fellow Emeritus at Exeter College at the University of Oxford

Reading list

  • The World According to Physics
    Jim Al-Khalili (Princeton University Press, 2020) Google Books →
  • How To Make An Apple Pie From Scratch: In Search of the Recipe for Our Universe
    Harry Cliff (Picador, 2021) Google Books →
  • Lucifer's Legacy: The Meaning of Asymmetry
    Frank Close (Oxford University Press, 2000) Google Books →
  • Particle Physics: A Very Short Introduction
    Frank Close (Oxford University Press, 2004) Google Books →
  • Antimatter
    Frank Close (Oxford University Press, 2009) Google Books →
  • The Particle Odyssey: A Journey to the Heart of Matter
    Frank Close, Michael Marten and Christine Sutton (Open University Press, 2002) Google Books →
  • QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter
    Richard P. Feynman (Penguin, 1990) Google Books →
  • The Matter of Everything: Twelve Experiments that Changed Our World
    Suzie Sheehy (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2022) Google Books →

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Programme ID: m001cf1n

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Auto-category: 530.12 (Atomic physics)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello, it was in 1897 that J.J. Thompson discovered the electron and revealed that atoms, supposedly the smallest things, were made of even smaller things.