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Everything we know of with the possible exception of Dark Matter is made up of Atoms/Protons/Electrons & so on.How is that these combine to make either living or non living matter,also why do they combine to make say a piece of wood,and others a stone.

I suppose my question is what makes Atoms decide what there going to be?

Is it simply the way they interact or grouped to-gether?

Hope not too daft a question.

Mick.

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Chemistry!

It's really all about energy, certain arrangement of atoms are more energetically favourable than others, and that's why we get materials.

However the energy levels aren't that different, so its quite easy to rearrange atoms into different molecules.

So for instance water is quite stable, but it doesn't take a huge amount of energy to split it into hydrogen and oxygen, plants do it all the time using energy from the sun, and then you can reassemble it into other compounds like sugars.

What sort of rearrangements you can make is the basis of chemistry, and its all to do with electrons. Which electrons in the outer shell can be moved from one atom to another.

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Life/conciousness is THE biggest mystery of the universe I think.

I think we can study it till the cows come home but nothing we currently know about (or think we know about) has ever explained how or why atoms form living beings and become self aware, the complexity is just mind blowing.

The 'mechanics' of it we can look at (chemistry, evolution, survival of the fittest etc) all we like but that doesn't explain how/why atoms have become self aware.

Their is certainly much more going on here than our idea of the basic mechanics of it all. I have no doubt that we are going to have to take a leap of faith (in no religious/alien way btw) and start trying to think in a very different way at some point in the future to try and get to the bottom of it, if indeed it's even possible from our point of view.

I suspect we have an awful lot of evolving to do before we can start to pin it down. I don't mean to belittle our current level of thought or abilities or achievements but we have only really just begun to open our eyes as to where we appear to be, what we appear to be etc.

Edited by Cath
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Everything we know of with the possible exception of Dark Matter is made up of Atoms/Protons/Electrons & so on.How is that these combine to make either living or non living matter,also why do they combine to make say a piece of wood,and others a stone.

Philosophers, alchemists, chemists and other prototypical scientists spent centuries arguing over and investigating this problem, so it certainly couldn't be said to be a silly question. In 1661, Robert Boyle published The Sceptical Chymist (this was before spelling), which presented his hypothesis "that matter consists of atoms and clusters of atoms in motion and that every phenomenon is the result of collisions of particles in motion."

Living and non-living matter are made up of the same atoms, and often the same molecules - a question which wasn't really resolved until the 19th century. The real difference is complexity and organisation. A rock can be quite complicated, being a blend of many minerals and trace elements; but any organisation is relatively simple, such as repeating crystal structures. This is nothing compared to even a simple cell, which can be thought of as a chemical factory: accepting raw materials, processing them, assembling them into new structures and disposing of waste. A Boeing 747 is assembled from about 6 million parts, but this is trivial compared to a cell.

DNA - Deoxyribonucleic acid - is at the heart of this. It stores instructions for building complex organic molecules: proteins. An example of a simple protein is haemoglobin, a component of blood. It binds to oxygen in the lungs, and releases it where concentrations are low, like a petrol tanker. Cells then use the oxygen to fuel other reactions.

Hope that is of some help.

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Everything we know of with the possible exception of Dark Matter is made up of Atoms/Protons/Electrons & so on.How is that these combine to make either living or non living matter,also why do they combine to make say a piece of wood,and others a stone.

I suppose my question is what makes Atoms decide what there going to be?

Is it simply the way they interact or grouped to-gether?

Hope not too daft a question.

Mick.

They combine by what we see as the laws of chemistry.

To make wood etc is covered by organic chemistry, and for the higher things - life/awareness you need biology and bio-chemistry as a startt at least.

An atom doesn't decide what it is going to be, it simply is whatever it is and that came from fusion of nuclei in the heart of the star it was formed in.

Strangely very little physics in there.

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Mick, there's a brilliant book by Marcus Chown called The Magic Furnace, the Story of Atoms. It tells of our discoveries ralating to the atom, most notably how stars are the furnaces which create the more complex ones by combining the simplest ones (hydrogen) in successive stages. Once you have this range of atoms available you can start making molecules, as the others have said. What I need is a follow on introduction to chemistry, about which I know nothing. Advice, anyopne? I'll start a new thread on this.

Olly

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This is a great question and one I think that definitely requires more research and co-operation between physicists and chemists. There is a quest for a theory of emergence however, we're far from any kind of general theory that covers the reason for the creation of all compounds.

My view on it how is that any combination of elements that can form into a compound, DO! However, some compounds are stable are last for aeons whilst other last for mere femtoseconds and rapidly decay back to their component parts because their structure or their environment cannot allow them to sustain themselves. I think it's similar to how atoms form in the fusion environment of stars. The heart of stars are just a masses of ionised gas, a soup of protons and other baryons and leptons, fusion allows many heavy elements to form naturally, all the way up to uranium and very well possibly even heavier elements. However, the half-life of some of these isotopes are so short that we find no evidence of them on earth and can only create them on earth using artificial means (Bring in the particle collider!) Similarly, we have the same problem with atoms forming into compounds.

So, my thoughts are ANY possible combinations of atoms that can form into a compound do so, but for many varied and complex reasons, some almost disband almost as quickly as they formed whilst others stay tightly bound together for millions sometimes even billions of years. Unfortunately, no one as yet formulated a nice neat all encompassing theory as to why this phenomenon of emergence happens, instead there are lots of fragment ideas, Hydrogen Forces, Van Der Waals forces, ionic bonding etc etc. But I'm pretty sure, there is a Noble prize in it for whoever can formulate a communicable theory.

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They combine by what we see as the laws of chemistry.

To make wood etc is covered by organic chemistry, and for the higher things - life/awareness you need biology and bio-chemistry as a startt at least.

An atom doesn't decide what it is going to be, it simply is whatever it is and that came from fusion of nuclei in the heart of the star it was formed in.

Strangely very little physics in there.

On the contrary, everything at this level is quantum physics, probability, and energy distribution (however much I dislike "Wonders of Life", what Brian Cox was trying to say was basically right). Chemistry is like a layer of plaster smoothing over the rough bricks of physics ... and biology is the wallpaper over that ...

Perhaps I'd better duck ... :p

AndyG

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