Do you remember learning about protons, neutrons, and electrons in grade school?  Your teacher probably never told you what shape electrons are, and there’s a good reason: No one knew for sure! At least, we didn’t know until recently, when a scientific study showed us the shape of electrons.

A mystery

In particle physics, the Standard Model is the main scientific theory.  The Standard Model includes scientific things such as atoms and subatomic particles.  This model has had tremendous scientific success and has enabled scientists to predict many different discoveries over the years.

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That being said, it has some obvious holes.  There are parts of science that the Standard Model does not account for, such as gravity.  Researcher Gerald Gabrielse says, “We know the Standard Model is wrong, but we can’t seem to find where it’s wrong.  It’s like a huge mystery novel.”

The shape of electrons

One of the questions raised by the Standard Model is the shape of electrons.  According to the Standard Model, electrons would have to be round in shape.  Scientists were unable to prove or disprove the shape of electrons until a recent study was published.

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In a collaborative effort between Yale, Northwestern University, and Harvard, scientists showed that the charge on an electron is spherically symmetrical.  Electrons have a negative charge, and this negative charge is equally strong at every point around them.  This implies that their shape is round.

The big picture

The finding is an enormous breakthrough.  Because electrons are round, scientists have discarded all of the Standard Model’s alternatives that require a non-spherical electron.  Doing this eliminated almost all of the alternative models, unfortunately, so researchers are back to square one.


Perhaps someday in the future, scientists will find a model that will make up for the Standard Model’s shortcomings.  According to Gabrielse, “We’re getting closer.” For now, though, the Standard Model still reigns supreme.