Electrons: Electric Charge

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The electron is a fundamental subatomic particle that carries a negative electric charge. It is a spin-½ lepton that participates in electromagnetic interactions, and its mass is less than one thousandth of that of the smallest atom. Its electric charge is defined by convention to be negative, with a value of −1 in atomic units. Together with atomic nuclei, electrons make up atoms; their interaction with adjacent nuclei is the main cause of chemical bonding.

The name "electron" comes from the Greek word for amber, Þëåêôñïí. This material played an essential role in the discovery of electrical phenomena. The ancient Greeks knew, for example, that rubbing a piece of amber with fur left an electric charge on its surface, which could then create sparks. For more about the history of the term electricity, see History of electricity.

The electron as a unit of charge in electrochemistry was posited by G. Johnstone Stoney in 1874, who also coined the term electron in 1894. During the late 1890s a number of physicists posited that electricity could be conceived of as being made of discrete units, which were given a variety of names, but their reality had not been confirmed in a compelling way.

The discovery that the electron was a subatomic particle was made in 1897 by J.J. Thomson at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, while he was studying cathode ray tubes. A cathode ray tube is a sealed glass cylinder in which two electrodes are separated by a vacuum. When a voltage is applied across the electrodes, cathode rays are generated, causing the tube to glow. Through experimentation, Thomson discovered that the negative charge could not be separated from the rays (by the application of magnetism), and that the rays could be deflected by an electric field. He concluded that these rays, rather than being waves, were composed of negatively charged particles he called "corpuscles". He measured their mass-to-charge ratio and found it to be over a...
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