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Can’t Touch This

by | 15 December, 2016

In the editorial we made mention of the lovely paper this issue of Phox Pop magazine is printed on. If you take a moment to move your finger back and forth a little, you’ll feel the tangible texture of it.

Except, actually, you won’t. Because really, when we think we’re touching something, feeling something, we’re not; at least, not at an atomic level.

Technically, this magazine is hovering in between your fingers at a tiny, atomic-size gap. You can’t see the gap, but it’s there.

That’s because all matter — from our human bodies, to the objects we encounter on a daily basis, like this magazine — is made out of atoms. Atoms consist of a nucleus surrounded by an outer shell of orbiting electrons. When two atoms (that aren’t going to bond or chemically react) get close to each other, they’re unable to actually touch because the electrons of each atom have the same charge and, like magnets, repel each other.

illustration of atoms repelling, by Alexandra Carr

It was an Austrian physicist named Wolfgang Pauli who, in 1925, discovered that an atom’s electrons cannot all be pushed down to the same energy level on the same shell at the same time, ie: full matter-on-matter contact. This is known as the Pauli Exclusion Principle.

So what you’re feeling when you think you’re feeling this page (or stroking your pet, or kissing your partner, for that matter) is actually the nerves in your skin detecting the repulsive force of the paper’s electrons.

We don’t know about you, but this repulsion feels pretty good to us.