How do we know about the structure of the atom?

Scientists originally thought that atoms were like a 'plum pudding' in that they were a sphere of positive charge with negatively charged electrons scattered about inside it. This was because they observed from experiment that the atom was neutral and also that it contained electrons. Therefore the negatively charged electrons must be cancelled out by a positive charge.

However, a scientist named Rutherford proved this model wrong by firing positively charged particles named alpha particles at some atoms in gold foil. Most of the alpha particles went straight through the foil but some were deflected back the way they had come. 

This lead to our current model of the atom where most of it is empty space, allowing most of the particles to pass straight through. The nucleus is a positively charged collection of protons and neutrons (which have no charge) and so repels the positively charged alpha particles. The electrons surround this nucleus in rings. 

Katherine R. GCSE Physics tutor

8 months ago

Answered by Katherine, a GCSE Physics tutor with MyTutor

Still stuck? Get one-to-one help from a personally interviewed subject specialist


£18 /hr

Will N.

Degree: Mechanical Engineering (Masters) - Imperial College London University

Subjects offered: Physics, Maths


“I am currently studying Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London. I have limited professional experience in tutoring myself, but have in recent years been a tutee of Maths and Physics. Through the help of some excellent teach...”

£24 /hr

Vandan P.

Degree: Physical Natural Sciences (Bachelors) - Cambridge University

Subjects offered: Physics, Science+ 6 more

Further Mathematics
-Oxbridge Preparation-

“I am a second year undergraduate at Corpus Christi College Cambridge. I am studying Natural Sciences. In my first year I did Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science and Maths and passed with first class honours....”

£30 /hr

Jacan C.

Degree: Theoretical Physics (Masters) - York University

Subjects offered: Physics, Science+ 3 more

Further Mathematics

“Hi, my name is Jacan. I am a Theoretical Physics third year at the University of York. I have had a real excitement for gaining an understanding in science at all levels through my education. This was, however, not always facilitated...”

About the author

Katherine R.

Currently unavailable: for regular students

Degree: Physics (Bachelors) - Durham University

Subjects offered: Physics


“I am a Natural Sciences student at Durham University who specialises in Physics so I love talking about all things to do with science! I hope in my tutorial you will enjoy talking with me about everything from stars and galaxies to th...”

You may also like...

Posts by Katherine

How do I work out the efficiency of a process from a Sankey diagram?

How do we know about the structure of the atom?

What is nuclear fusion?

Other GCSE Physics questions

The cyclist used the brakes to slow down and stop the bicycle. A constant braking force of 140 N stopped the bicycle in a distance of 24 m. Calculate the work done by the braking force to stop the bicycle. Give the unit. (3 Marks)

Describe the model now used for the structure of an atom. Refer to the constituent particles including their relative masses and charges.

Explain Newton's laws of motion

What is the momentum of a 84 kg man running at 5 m/s?

View GCSE Physics tutors


We use cookies to improve our service. By continuing to use this website, we'll assume that you're OK with this. Dismiss