The microscopic image shows carbon atoms in a carbon nanotube.
Figure 22.1 Individual carbon atoms are visible in this image of a carbon nanotube made by a scanning tunneling electron microscope. (credit: Taner Yildirim, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Wikimedia Commons)


From childhood on, we learn that atoms are a substructure of all things around us, from the air we breathe to the autumn leaves that blanket a forest trail. Invisible to the eye, the atoms have properties that are used to explain many phenomena—a theme found throughout this text. In this chapter, we discuss the discovery of atoms and their own substructures. We will then learn about the forces that keep them together and the tremendous energy they release when we break them apart. Finally, we will see how the knowledge and manipulation of atoms allows us to better understand geology, biology, and the world around us.