Science & Technology

You Have an Electromagnetic Field, but It's Not What You Think

Every once in a while, you might encounter a metaphysically-minded person who tells you that your aura is weak and that you need healing. Maybe they'll even tell you that all humans have an electromagnetic field that they need to maintain if they're going to stay happy and healthy. Would you be surprised to learn that they're sort of right? Emphasis on sort ofyour energy isn't amber or any other color, but without it, you wouldn't be able to touch anything, ever.

If There's a Field, There's a Way

So you probably know that you're made up of cells, and those cells are made up of atoms. And maybe you also know that atoms are mostly empty space. Here's a quick primer. An atom is an unbelievably tiny particle of matter with an unbelievably tiny nucleus inside it. How tiny? Well, if you blew that nucleus up to the size of a marble, the farthest electrons to orbit it would be about a football field away (roughly 360 feet, or 109 meters). Depending on the atom, between one and 118 electrons would fill a sphere with that enormous radius. That's a whole lot of empty space in each atom. So why don't atoms pass right through each other? For that matter, why doesn't everything pass through everything else?

It's because each atom is surrounded by an electric field. But this field isn't produced by the electrons' negative charges repelling each other. It's a far more complicated exchange of energy.

The Electron Slide

Electrons don't smoothly orbit a nucleus the way they do in the classic image. Instead, they exist as a cloud of quantum probabilities, each on certain energy levels at set distances from the nucleus. An electron can jump from one energy level, or orbital, to another, but doing so requires an exchange of energy. Additionally, the Pauli exclusion principle states that any one orbital of an atom can only contain a certain number of electrons at a time. That means that when two objects get very close to each other, their electrons begin a coordinated dance.

In an enthusiastic Quora answer later published on Forbes, physics grad student Jack Fraser gave an explanation of how this dance of electrons prevents anything from ever actually touching anything else, beginning with the intriguing sentence, "I want you to imagine me punching you hard, in the nose." In this face-punching scenario, the electrons of the atoms in his fist are pushed into the space of the electrons of the atoms in your nose. But the face electrons are already occupying the lower-energy orbits closer to their atoms' respective nuclei. That means that if the fist electrons are going occupy the electric cloud of the face atoms, they'll have to hop into a higher-energy orbital farther from the center.

But the energy needed to force all those electrons out of their orbitals needs to come from somewhere, and it's a whole lot more than the human body can muster. So instead, the atoms repel each other. "This repulsion obviously then causes a chain reaction with all the other atoms in your face," writes Fraser. "They all repel in unison from my fist (that's why your nose doesn't atomize into trillions of atoms!)." But what's most incredible of all? The fist and the face never technically touch during the entire interaction.

"Not only is it possible that the human body creates EM [electromagnetic] fields — it is the only way you can possibly exist as a coherent entity!" Fraser concludes. "You are an electric field — a giant electric field which holds your atoms together, and which uses other electric fields to talk to other bits of yourself." With that kind of reality-based phenomenon, who needs auras?

Get stories like this one in your inbox each morning. Sign up for our daily email here.

Can't get enough bizarre quirks of the laws of physics? In "Mind = Blown," Matthew Santoro discovers all the weird and wacky facts the world has to offer (it's free with your trial membership to Audible). We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

There's a Lot More Weird Science Where That Came From

Written by Reuben Westmaas August 16, 2018

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.