Template:Infobox Particle The proton is a subatomic particle with an electric charge of +1 elementary charge. It is found in the nucleus of each atom but is also stable by itself and has a second identity as the hydrogen ion, 1H+. It is composed of 3 even more fundamental particles comprising two up quarks and one down quark.[1]


Protons are spin-1/2 fermions and are composed of three quarks[2], making them baryons. The two up quarks and one down quark of the proton are held together by the strong force, mediated by gluons.[1]

Protons and neutrons are both nucleons, which may be bound by the nuclear force into atomic nuclei. The nucleus of the most common isotope of the hydrogen atom is a single proton (it contains no neutrons). The nuclei of heavy hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) contain neutrons. All other types of atoms are composed of two or more protons and various numbers of neutrons. The number of protons in the nucleus determines the chemical properties of the atom and thus which chemical element is represented; it is the number of both neutrons and protons in a nuclide which determine the particular isotope of an element. Protons have a positive charge.


Main article: Proton decay

Protons are observed to be stable and their theoretical minimum half-life is 1×1036 years. Grand unified theories generally predict that proton decay should take place, although experiments so far have only resulted in a lower limit of 1035 years for the proton's lifetime. In other words, proton decay has never been witnessed and the experimental lower bound on the mean proton lifetime (2.1×1029 years) is put by the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory[3].

However, protons are known to transform into neutrons through the process of electron capture. This process does not occur spontaneously but only when energy is supplied. The equation is:

$ \mathrm{p}^+ + \mathrm{e}^- \rightarrow\mathrm{n} + {\nu}_e \, $


p is a proton,
e is an electron,
n is a neutron, and
$ \nu_e $ is an electron neutrino

The process is reversible: neutrons can convert back to protons through beta decay, a common form of radioactive decay. In fact, a free neutron decays this way with a mean lifetime of about 15 minutes.

The proton in chemistryEdit

Atomic numberEdit

In chemistry the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom is known as the atomic number, which determines the chemical element to which the atom belongs. For example, the atomic number of chlorine is 17; this means that each chlorine atom has 17 protons and that all atoms with 17 protons are chlorine atoms. The chemical properties of each atom are determined by the number of (negatively charged) electrons, which for neutral atoms is equal to the number of (positive) protons so that the total charge is zero. For example, a neutral chlorine atom has 17 protons and 17 electrons, while a negative Cl- ion has 17 protons and 18 electrons for a total charge of -1.

All atoms of a given element are not necessarily identical, however, as the number of neutrons may vary to form different isotopes. Again for chlorine as an example, there are two stable isotopes - 35Cl with 35 nucleons which are 17 protons and 35-17 = 18 neutrons, and 37Cl with 17 protons and 37-17 = 20 neutrons. Other isotopes of chlorine are radioactive.

Hydrogen as protonEdit

Since the atomic number of hydrogen is 1, a positive hydrogen ion (H+) has no electrons and corresponds to a bare nucleus with 1 proton (and 0 neutrons for the most abundant isotope 1H). In chemistry therefore, the word "proton" is commonly used as a synonym for hydrogen ion (H+) or hydrogen nucleus in several contexts:

  1. The transfer of H+ in an acid-base reaction is referred to "proton transfer". The acid is referred to as a proton donor and the base as a proton acceptor.
  2. The hydronium ion (H3O+) in aqueous solution corresponds to a hydrated hydrogen ion. Often the water molecule is ignored and the ion written as simply H+(aq) or just H+, and referred to as a "proton". This is the usual meaning in biochemistry, as in the term proton pump which refers to a protein or enzyme which controls the movement of H+ ions across cell membranes.
  3. Proton NMR refers to the observation of hydrogen nuclei in (mostly organic) molecules by nuclear magnetic resonance. This uses the property of the proton to have spin one-half.


Ernest Rutherford is generally credited with the discovery of the proton. In 1918 Rutherford noticed that when alpha particles were shot into nitrogen gas, his scintillation detectors showed the signatures of hydrogen nuclei. Rutherford determined that the only place this hydrogen could have come from was the nitrogen, and therefore nitrogen must contain hydrogen nuclei. He thus suggested that the hydrogen nucleus, which was known to have an atomic number of 1, was an elementary particle.

Prior to Rutherford, Eugen Goldstein had observed canal rays, which were composed of positively charged ions. After the discovery of the electron by J.J. Thomson, Goldstein suggested that since the atom is electrically neutral there must be a positively charged particle in the atom and tried to discover it. He used the "canal rays" observed to be moving against the electron flow in cathode ray tubes. After the electron had been removed from particles inside the cathode ray tube they became positively charged and moved towards the cathode. Most of the charged particles passed through the cathode, it being perforated, and produced a glow on the glass. At this point, Goldstein believed that he had discovered the proton.[4] When he calculated the ratio of charge to mass of this new particle (which in case of the electron was found to be the same for every gas that was used in the cathode ray tube) was found to be different when the gases used were changed. The reason was simple. What Goldstein assumed to be a proton was actually an ion. He gave up his work there, but promised that "he would return." However, he was widely ignored.

The proton is named after the neuter singular of the Greek word for "first", πρῶτον.


The Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Packages (ALSEP) determined that more then 95% of the particles in solar winds are electrons and protons of approximate equal numbers.".[5][6]

"Because the Solar Wind Spectrometer made continuous measurements, it was possible to measure how the Earth's magnetic field affects arriving solar wind particles. For about two-thirds of each orbit, the Moon is outside of the Earth's magnetic field. At these times, a typical proton density was 10 to 20 per cubic centimeter, with most protons having velocities between 400 and 650 kilometers per second. For about five days of each month, the Moon is inside the Earth's geomagnetic tail, and typically no solar wind particles were detectable. For the remainder of each lunar orbit, the Moon is in a transitional region known as the magnetosheath, where the Earth's magnetic field affects the solar wind but does not completely exclude it. In this region, the particle flux is reduced, with typical proton velocities of 250 to 450 kilometers per second. During the lunar night, the spectrometer was shielded from the solar wind by the Moon and no solar wind particles were measured."[5]

Research has also been or is being performed on the dose-rate effects of protons, as typically found in space travel, on human health.[6][7] More specifically, there are hopes to identify what specific chromosomes are damaged, and to define the damage, during cancer development from proton exposure.[6] Another study looks into determining "the effects of exposure to proton irradiation on neurochemical and behavioral endpoints, including dopaminergic functioning, amphetamine-induced conditioned taste aversion learning, and spatial learning and memory as measured by the Morris water maze."[7] One study even looks into "interplanetary protons" and the effects of charging spacecrafts.[8] There are many more studies which pertain to space travel, its galactic cosmic rays, its possible health effects, and solar proton event exposure.


Main article: Antiproton

CPT-symmetry puts strong constraints on the relative properties of particles and antiparticles and, therefore, is open to stringent tests. For example, the charges of the proton and antiproton must sum to exactly zero. This equality has been tested to one part in 108. The equality of their masses has also been tested to better than one part in 108. By holding antiprotons in a Penning trap, the equality of the charge to mass ratio of the proton and the antiproton has been tested to one part in 9×1011. The magnetic moment of the antiproton has been measured with error of 8×10−3 nuclear Bohr magnetons, and is found to be equal and opposite to that of the proton.

See also Edit


  1. 1.0 1.1 W.N.Cottingham and D.A.Greenwood "An Introduction to Nuclear Physics", Cambridge University Press (1986), p.19
  2. Adair, Robert K.: "The Great Design: Particles, Fields, and Creation.", page 214. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  3. SNO Collaboration, S.N. Ahmed et al., "Constraints on nucleon decay via invisible modes from the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory", Phys. Rev. Lett. 92 (2004) 102004
  4. Gilreath, Esmarch S.: "Fundamental Concepts of Inorganic Chemistry.", page 5. New York: McGraw–Hill, 1958.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Apollo 11 Mission" Lunar and Planetary Institute, 2009. Accessed 12 June 2009.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Space Travel and Cancer Linked? Stony Brook Researcher Secures NASA Grant to Study Effects of Space Radiation" December 12, 2007. Brookhaven National Laboratory News. Stony Brook, N.Y., Accessed 12 June 2009
  7. 7.0 7.1 Shukitt-Hale, B., Szprengiel, A., Pluhar, J., Rabin, B. M. & Joseph, J. A. "The effects of proton exposure on neurochemistry and behavior". Elsevier Ltd on behalf of COSPAR. Article summary published by Accessed 12 June 2009.
  8. N. W. Green and A. R. Frederickson. "A Study of Spacecraft Charging due to Exposure to Interplanetary Protons". Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. Accessed 12 June 2009.

External linksEdit


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