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Chemistry LibreTexts

6: Electronic Structure of Atoms

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  • In this chapter, we describe how electrons are arranged in atoms and how the spatial arrangements of electrons are related to their energies. We also explain how knowing the arrangement of electrons in an atom enables chemists to predict and explain the chemistry of an element. As you study the material presented in this chapter, you will discover how the shape of the periodic table reflects the electronic arrangements of elements. In this and subsequent chapters, we build on this information to explain why certain chemical changes occur and others do not. After reading this chapter, you will know enough about the theory of the electronic structure of atoms to explain what causes the characteristic colors of neon signs, how laser beams are created, and why gemstones and fireworks have such brilliant colors. In later chapters, we will develop the concepts introduced here to explain why the only compound formed by sodium and chlorine is NaCl, an ionic compound, whereas neon and argon do not form any stable compounds, and why carbon and hydrogen combine to form an almost endless array of covalent compounds, such as CH4, C2H2, C2H4, and C2H6. You will discover that knowing how to use the periodic table is the single most important skill you can acquire to understand the incredible chemical diversity of the elements.

    • 6.1: The Wave Nature of Light
      Understanding the electronic structure of atoms requires an understanding of the properties of waves and electromagnetic radiation. A basic knowledge of the electronic structure of atoms requires an understanding of the properties of waves and electromagnetic radiation. A wave is a periodic oscillation by which energy is transmitted through space. All waves are periodic, repeating regularly in both space and time. Waves are characterized by several interrelated properties.
    • 6.2: Quantized Energy and Photons
      Blackbody radiation is the radiation emitted by hot objects and could not be explained with classical physics. Max Planck postulated that energy was quantized and may be emitted or absorbed only in integral multiples of a small unit of energy, known as a quantum. The energy of a quantum is proportional to the frequency of the radiation; the proportionality constant h is a fundamental constant (Planck’s constant). Albert Einstein used the quantization of energy to explain the photoelectric effect
    • 6.3: Line Spectra and the Bohr Model
      There is an intimate connection between the atomic structure of an atom and its spectral characteristics. Most light is polychromatic and contains light of many wavelengths. Light that has only a single wavelength is monochromatic and is produced by devices called lasers, which use transitions between two atomic energy levels to produce light in a very narrow range of wavelengths. Atoms can also absorb light of certain energies, resulting in a transition from the ground state or a lower-energy e
    • 6.4: The Wave Behavior of Matter
      An electron possesses both particle and wave properties. Louis de Broglie showed that the wavelength of a particle is equal to Planck’s constant divided by the mass times the velocity of the particle. The electron in Bohr’s circular orbits could thus be described as a standing wave, one that does not move through space. Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle states that it is impossible to precisely describe both the location and the speed of particles that exhibit wavelike behavior.
    • 6.5: Quantum Mechanics and Atomic Orbitals
      There is a relationship between the motions of electrons in atoms and molecules and their energies that is described by quantum mechanics. Because of wave–particle duality, scientists must deal with the probability of an electron being at a particular point in space. To do so required the development of quantum mechanics, which uses wavefunctions to describe the mathematical relationship between the motion of electrons in atoms and molecules and their energies.
    • 6.6: 3D Representation of Orbitals
      Orbitals with l = 0 are s orbitals and are spherically symmetrical, with the greatest probability of finding the electron occurring at the nucleus. Orbitals with values of n > 1 and l = 0 contain one or more nodes. Orbitals with l = 1 are p orbitals and contain a nodal plane that includes the nucleus, giving rise to a dumbbell shape. Orbitals with l = 2 are d orbitals and have more complex shapes with at least two nodal surfaces. l = 3 orbitals are f orbitals, which are still more complex.
    • 6.7: Many-Electron Atoms
      In addition to the three quantum numbers (n, l, ml) dictated by quantum mechanics, a fourth quantum number is required to explain certain properties of atoms. This is the electron spin quantum number (ms), which can have values of +½ or −½ for any electron, corresponding to the two possible orientations of an electron in a magnetic field. This is important for chemistry because the Pauli exclusion principle implies that no orbital can contain more than two electrons (with opposite spin).
    • 6.8: Electron Configurations
      Based on the Pauli principle and a knowledge of orbital energies obtained using hydrogen-like orbitals, it is possible to construct the periodic table by filling up the available orbitals beginning with the lowest-energy orbitals (the aufbau principle), which gives rise to a particular arrangement of electrons for each element (its electron configuration). Hund’s rule says that the lowest-energy arrangement of electrons is the one that places them in degenerate orbitals with parallel spins.
    • 6.9: Electron Configurations & the Periodic Table
      The arrangement of atoms in the periodic table results in blocks corresponding to filling of the ns, np, nd, and nf orbitals to produce the distinctive chemical properties of the elements in the s block, p block, d block, and f block, respectively.
    • 6.E: Electronic Structure of Atoms (Exercises)
      These are homework exercises to accompany the Textmap created for "Chemistry: The Central Science" by Brown et al.
    • 6.S: Electronic Structure of Atoms (Summary)
      This is the summary Module for the chapter "Electronic Structure of Atoms" in the Brown et al. General Chemistry Textmap.

    Thumbnail: Electron shell diagram for Sodium, the 19th element in the periodic table of elements. Image used with permission (CC BY-SA; 2.5; Pumbaa)