Scientists have made the most accurate measurement yet of the shape of the humble electron, revealing that it is almost a perfect sphere.

The experiment by Imperial College of London researchers spanning more than a decade, suggested that the electron differs from being perfectly round by less than 0.000000000000000000000000001 cm. This means that if the electron were magnified to the size of the solar system, it would still appear spherical, to within the width of a human hair.

The physicists from Imperial’s Centre for cold matter studied the electrons inside molecules called Ytterbium Fluoride. Using a very precise laser, they made careful measurements of the motion of these electrons. If the electrons were not perfectly round, then, like an unbalanced spinning top, their motion would exhibit a distinctive wobble, distorting the overall shape of the molecule. The researchers saw no sign of such a wobble.

Research and co-author, Dr Jony Hudson, from the Department of Physics at Imperial College London said, “We’re really pleased that we’ve been able to improve our knowledge of one of the basic building blocks of matter. It’s been a very difficult measurement to make, but this knowledge will let us improve our theories of fundamental physics. People are often surprised to hear that our theories of physics aren’t ‘finished’, but in truth they get constantly refined and improved by making ever more accurate measurements like this one.”

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