The Electric Force

I love physics. Which is good because I’m majoring in physics. One of the many strange things in this universe is the fact that gravity is such an astonishingly weak force. It may seem counterintuitive since our world completely defined by gravity. We need giant rockets just to crawl into the nearest fringes of space. But compared to the other three fundamental forces of nature, gravity may as well not even exist.

To illustrate this point, imagine that you are a fairly tall (2 meters, about 6’6”) and muscular bodybuilder, capable of lifting 100 kg (about 220 lbs.) over your head. It’s a pretty impressive feat; most people would struggle to lift half that. But let’s imagine you were to replace the large weight with some hydrogen that’s been split into protons and electrons by some machine (hydrogen is the simplest element, consisting of a single proton surrounded by a single electron). The positive protons and negative electrons attract each other just like the Earth and the 100 kg weight. The question is: how much hydrogen do you need to replicate the same feat.

The answer is really really surprising: only 10 nanograms. Yes, that’s only 0.00000001 grams (or 0.00000000002 lbs.) of hydrogen, split into protons and electrons, that will create the same force (if separated at 2 meters. Any closer and the force becomes stronger). In fact just separating that amount of electrons from protons would take as much energy as the entire human race uses in over 5 years. The electric force is that powerful, and it’s not even the strongest force in the universe. We’re lucky that nearly every positive charge in the universe is balanced by some negative charge, otherwise everything would be either crushed or repelled to infinity instantly.


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