Science Stuff: All About Matter. What Stuff is Stuff Made Of?

Rhett Allain
6 min readDec 23, 2021
Photo: Rhett Allain. Breaking something in half multiple times.

Let’s start with a classic thought experiment. Suppose you have some clay (I’m using Play-Doh) and you break it into two pieces. I think we can all agree that you would have two smaller pieces of clay. Now take one of those pieces and split it into two again. That’s what you see in the image above (I think it’s pretty cool).

Then we have the Greek philosopher, Democritus. He pondered the question: what would happen if you keep breaking something into smaller and smaller pieces? Is it even possible to keep doing this forever? Well, Democritus said “no”. At some point you couldn’t break it down any more — it would be indivisible. Oh, guess what? (chicken butt) That’s exactly what atom means. It means indivisible. It’s the smallest piece of matter. Of course Democritus never saw evidence of an atom — it was just an idea. You know, that’s what the Greeks did. They just came up with ideas.

I mean, it was a great idea — even though it was technically wrong. OK, before I go on I have to say something about the Play-Doh. Here’s what I did. I took a blob of Play-Doh and formed it into a rough sphere (ball). Then I used a straight edge to roughly cut it in half (I didn’t actually measure. No one has time for that). After that, I put one half on the table and then used the other piece to cut in half AGAIN. Repeat until you…

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Rhett Allain

Physics faculty, science blogger of all things geek. Technical Consultant for CBS MacGyver and MythBusters. WIRED blogger.