Atomic, nuclear and particles

What to expect

This topic is a whopper for new key words and there is a lot to memorise! In atomic physics, consider how we as scientists know (roughly) the structure of the atom, and also how electrons exist outside the nucleus. In nuclear physics, what makes these more or less stable and how are these instabilities resolved? The nucleus isn't the smallest particle either, and nor are protons and neutrons. What exists within?

Learning objectives

After studying this topic, you should be able to:

  • State why solids are solid when atoms are mostly empty space
  • Detail the fundamental forces of nature
  • Explain why a single quark hasn't ever been observed
  • Discuss how nuclei can release energy to become more stable


  • Atomic model

    Models in physics and beyond are used to describe or explain a challenging concept in a more visual or tangible way (e.g. the brain is like a library, electric current is like water flow). The atomic model is the best guess we currently have that explains

  • Nuclear physics

    Nuclear physics is a big topic!

  • Structure of matter

    Matter is vast and varied throughout the universe. Yet, zoom in enough and this complex story has a simple core - the Standard Model.

  • AHL Quantum

    Quantum physics is the study of the smallest objects in the universe: photons of electromagnetic radiation, the wavelengths of electrons and the energy levels of an atom.