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5.1.4: Nonbonding Orbitals and Other Factors

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    The simplest case is when there are an even number of atomic orbitals that all combine to form strong bonding and antibonding orbitals. But if there is an uneven number of atomic orbitals? Or what if there are some orbitals that don't meet the criteria for bonding? Or what if the bonding interactions are weak? In these cases, there will be molecular orbitals on the molecule that have non-bonding character.

    It is important to note that the bonding, non-bonding, and antibonding nature of orbitals exist on a spectrum. Some bonding and anti-bonding orbitals may have some non-bonding character depending on where their energies lie with respect to the original atomic orbital energies. When molecular orbitals have energies similar to their original atomic orbitals, they will have some non-bonding character. The closer the energies of atomic and molecular orbitals, the more non-bonding the molecular orbitals.

    Two major factors to consider

    Uneven number of atomic orbitals: In the case that there are an uneven number of atomic orbitals with compatible symmetry, orbitals with non-bonding character will form. For example, in the case where three atomic orbitals combine, the most common result is formation of a low-energy bonding orbital, a high energy antibonding orbital, and a non-bonding orbital of intermediate energy (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)).

    Screen Shot 2020-07-22 at 9.25.58 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\). This figure illustrates the most common case for three atomic orbitals that combine to form three molecular orbitals; formation of one low-energy bonding, one high-energy antibonding, and one intermediate energy non-bonding molecular orbital. (CC-BY-NC-SA, Kathryn Haas)

    Differences in energy: Combination of orbitals with different energies may lead to orbitals with non-bonding character. Atomic orbitals that have similar energies will have the strongest interactions, and result in bonding molecular orbitals with much lower energies than the component atomic orbitals. On the other hand, atomic orbitals with very unequal energies have weaker interaction because the molecular orbitals are closer in energy to the atomic orbital energies, thus there is less energy benefit to putting electrons in the bonding molecular orbitals (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)). When bonding or antibonding orbitals are close to the energies of the contributing atomic orbitals, those molecular orbitals may have some non-bonding character.

    Screen Shot 2020-07-22 at 9.15.25 PM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\). This figure illustrates how relative energies of atomic orbitals result in molecular orbitals that are more or less favorable. The greater the energy difference between atomic orbitals and the bonding molecular orbital, the more eneretically favorable it is for bonding to occur. (CC-BY-NC-SA, Kathryn Haas)

    5.1.4: Nonbonding Orbitals and Other Factors is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kathryn Haas.

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