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Concept# Elementary charge

Summary

The elementary charge, usually denoted by or , is the electric charge carried by a single proton or, equivalently, the magnitude of the negative electric charge carried by a single electron, which has charge −1 . The symbol e has another useful mathematical meaning due to which its use as label for elementary charge is avoided in theoretical physics. For example, in quantum mechanics one wants to be able to write compactly plane waves with the use of Euler's number . Somewhat confusingly, in atomic physics, e sometimes denotes the electron charge, i.e. the negative of the elementary charge. This elementary charge is a fundamental physical constant.
In the SI system of units, the value of the elementary charge is exactly defined as = 1.602176634e−19 coulombs, or 160.2176634 zeptocoulombs (zC). Since the 2019 redefinition of SI base units, the seven SI base units are defined by seven fundamental physical constants, of which the elementary charge is one.
In the centimetre–gram–second system of units (CGS), the corresponding quantity is 4.8032047e-10statcoulombs.
Robert A. Millikan and Harvey Fletcher's oil drop experiment first directly measured the magnitude of the elementary charge in 1909, differing from the modern accepted value by just 0.6%. Under assumptions of the then-disputed atomic theory, the elementary charge had also been indirectly inferred to ~3% accuracy from blackbody spectra by Max Planck in 1901 and (through the Faraday constant) at order-of-magnitude accuracy by Johann Loschmidt's measurement of the Avogadro number in 1865.
2019 redefinition of the SI base units
In some natural unit systems, such as the system of atomic units, e functions as the unit of electric charge. The use of elementary charge as a unit was promoted by George Johnstone Stoney in 1874 for the first system of natural units, called Stoney units. Later, he proposed the name electron for this unit. At the time, the particle we now call the electron was not yet discovered and the difference between the particle electron and the unit of charge electron was still blurred.

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