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Chemistry LibreTexts

1: How we know what we know about the structure of matter?

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  • If you think back to our discussions of atomic structure, one of the most important pieces of evidence for the nature of atoms - particularly the arrangement of their electrons - was the way the atoms interact with electromagnetic radiation, that is, light. For example: the idea that both the energy of electromagnetic radiation and that of electrons is quantized came from Einstein’s analysis of the photoelectric effect. Electrons are ejected from metals only if they interact with photons of sufficient and discrete amounts of energy. More evidence for quantized electron energy states was provided from the study of atomic absorption and emission spectra, as photons of energy corresponding to the energy gaps between electron energy levels are either absorbed or emitted by electrons. Photons with the “wrong” amount of energy are not absorbed. Now that we have studied different assemblies of atoms (molecules, ions, networked structures), we can also look at how these larger entities interact with energy (in the form of electromagnetic radiation).

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