By Chris Hwang
You can never touch anything. In fact, when you are sleeping on your plush, comfy bed at night, you aren’t actually touching the bed; but rather “hovering” over it. While this may seem awfully counterintuitive, it proves to be true once you get down to the atomic level.
In order to determine whether it’s possible to touch something or not, we must first define the word “touch”. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to touch means “to bring a bodily part into contact with, especially so as to perceive through the tactile sense,” while the word “contact” is defined as the “union or junction of surfaces”. Intuitively, when we say “touch”, we mean that two solids are brought closely together such that there is no space between them.
Can we Truly Touch?
Atoms are what make up the matter we interact with everyday. You, your bed, your chair, and everything else. An atom is a positively charged nucleus with negatively charged electrons orbiting it with a great deal of empty space between them; and two atoms can never touch each other. Why? Because of the electromagnetic force that exists between them, which states that electrons will repel each other. When you lie in your bed, the electrons within your body and the electrons that make up your bed repel each other. Thus, you hover above your bed by a tiny distance.
The Perception of Touch
If you can never truly touch something, how it is possible that you can feel the textures of an object? As you may have guessed, it is the electromagnetic repulsion between the electrons of your body and the object that you are sensing. The nerves in your body sends signals to your brain with the perception that you are physically in contact with the object. However, in reality, you are not really in physical contact with the object.
It’s quite scary to think that you’ve never touched anything including your pet, your pillow, or your significant other. On the other hand, whether touching is possible or not really depends on your way of defining it. Really, the definition of to “touch” should be to come close enough to an object to feel its electrons.
Are you a high school student who dreams of a life in science, technology, engineering, art & design, math, or all of the above?
Science World is now accepting applications for our innovative multi-year after-school program Future Science Leaders. Successful applicants will attend weekly sessions with their science-loving peers, engage with STEAM professionals and complete challenging hands-on activities and projects.