Sez the Economist:
For, according to Dr Pyykko’s calculations, relativity explains why tin batteries do not work, but lead ones do.
His chain of reasoning goes like this. Lead, being heavier than tin, has more protons in its nucleus (82, against tin’s 50). That means its nucleus has a stronger positive charge and that, in turn, means the electrons orbiting the nucleus are more attracted to it and travel faster, at roughly 60% of the speed of light, compared with 35% for the electrons orbiting a tin atom…
If the problem isn’t immeadiately obvious to you, pause a moment before proceeding over the fold.
So: this is one of the classic problems of classical physics. Accelerated electrical charges radiate electromagnetic radiation. If electrons really whizzed round nuclei, they would radiate and their orbits would decay and all matter would collapse. This doesn’t happen. [[Atomic orbital]] looks reasonable and corresponds roughly to what i think I know.
I’m hoping that the Economist has garbled Dr Pyykko’s work, rather than Dr P having garbled reality. But since it is in Physical Review Letters I presume it is of high quality.
* Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 018301 (2011) Relativity and the Lead-Acid Battery (paywalled)
* Relativity and the lead-acid battery – arXiv (ht BD)