A quick Google search gives me the following sentences:

  1. An electron is scattered from a nucleus.
  2. An electron is scattered against a nucleus.
  3. An electron is scattered by a nucleus.

Which one is correct? If they are all correct, then what is the difference in the meaning?

  • google 'electron scatter nucleus'. Answer: 'from' or 'off'. – Mitch Jun 17 '13 at 1:37
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    It depends what you're trying to say. I'm no particle physicist, but I do try to keep up with the basics. None of these sentences seem to match anything I know about how electrons interact with nuclei. Are we talking about the nucleus the electron was originally associated with? – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '13 at 1:43
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    Thinking about it, if we're talking about what happens in an scanning electron microscope, for example, you could say the beam of electrons is "scattered by the nuclei". But any single electron isn't "scattered" - it's deflected (or diffracted, I suppose, depending on whether it's considered as a particle or a wave). – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '13 at 2:05
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    @alexlo: Well, if we were talking about "normal" English usage, I'd have to assume the "scattered" electron was broken into many parts (quarks?) that went off in different directions. But I see from Google Books that you guys use the word that way: the electron is scattered gets 13300 hits in Google Books. The same string with deflected/diffracted gets 5180/181. If I insert beam then scattered/deflected/diffracted get 2310/18900/653. Weird. – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '13 at 2:30
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    @FumbleFingers I was talking about an incident electron, not one of the electrons associated with the nucleus. An electron is a fundamental particle. It cannot be separated further. I was asking an English question. If the context distracts people, please allow me to modify the question to be "A ball is scattered ? another ball". – Jing Jun 17 '13 at 3:21

All the sentences are practically correct (except the 1st has to be slightly changed to derive meaning from it), but have different meanings.

  1. An electron is scattered from a nucleus. should be An electron is scattered away from a nucleus. and would mean that an electron was on its way to hitting the nucleus, but was scattered in a different direction by something in its path before arrival.

  2. Similarly, An electron is scattered against a nucleus. would mean that it was 'flying' in space and hit some object by which it was scattered in the direction of the nucleus and hit it.

  3. An electron is scattered by a nucleus. means that the electron hit the nucleus which resulted in a change of direction of the electron.

Note that only the 3rd option describes/clarifies the cause of the electron being scattered (namely the nucleus), while the other two refer to the effect of the scattering (the electron hitting or not hitting the nucleus).

  • thank you very much. It is a very clear answer. I accept it. By the way, can I say "An electron is scattered with a nucleus"? – Jing Jun 17 '13 at 3:26
  • You could say that as well. Then it would mean that with the help of a nucleus you, or someone else, scattered the electron. – alexlo Jun 17 '13 at 10:03
  • Alexo. Good answer, indeed. However, the question is essentially about preposition use. OP ought to have done some homework on the difference between the prepositions in the example sentence. If still not sure, he could ask on ELL. On ELU this would be GR. – Kris Jun 18 '13 at 7:51

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