# 1.1.4: Development of Quantum Theory

Learning Objectives

• Give the electron configuration for an atom using Bohr’s model.
• Draw the shape of an s orbital, a p orbital, and a p subshell. Determine the number of electrons each orbital and subshell can hold (s, p, d, f).

## Bohr's Model

Following the work of Ernest Rutherford and his colleagues in the early twentieth century, the picture of atoms consisting of tiny dense nuclei surrounded by lighter and even tinier electrons continually moving about the nucleus was well established. This picture was called the planetary model, since it pictured the atom as a miniature “solar system” with the electrons orbiting the nucleus like planets orbiting the sun. The simplest atom is hydrogen, consisting of a single proton as the nucleus about which a single electron moves. This classical mechanics description of the atom is incomplete, however, since an electron moving in an elliptical orbit would be accelerating (by changing direction) and, according to classical electromagnetism, it should continuously emit electromagnetic radiation. This loss in orbital energy should result in the electron’s orbit getting continually smaller until it spirals into the nucleus, implying that atoms are inherently unstable.

In 1913, Niels Bohr attempted to resolve the atomic paradox by ignoring classical electromagnetism’s prediction that the orbiting electron in hydrogen would continuously emit light. Instead, he incorporated into the classical mechanics description of the atom Planck’s ideas of quantization and Einstein’s finding that light consists of photons whose energy is proportional to their frequency. Bohr assumed that the electron orbiting the nucleus would not normally emit any radiation (the stationary state hypothesis), but it would emit or absorb a photon if it moved to a different orbit.

Bohr’s model explained the experimental data for the hydrogen atom and was widely accepted, but it also raised many questions. Why did electrons orbit at only fixed distances defined by a single quantum number n = 1, 2, 3, and so on, but never in between? Why did the model work so well describing hydrogen and one-electron ions, but could not correctly predict the emission spectrum for helium or any larger atoms? To answer these questions, scientists needed to completely revise the way they thought about matter.

One of the fundamental laws of physics is that matter is most stable with the lowest possible energy. Thus, the electron in a hydrogen atom usually moves in the $$n = 1$$ orbit, the orbit in which it has the lowest energy. When the electron is in this lowest energy orbit, the atom is said to be in its ground electronic state (or simply ground state). If the atom receives energy from an outside source, it is possible for the electron to move to an orbit with a higher $$n$$ value and the atom is now in an excited electronic state (or simply an excited state) with a higher energy. When an electron transitions from an excited state (higher energy orbit) to a less excited state, or ground state, the difference in energy is emitted as a photon. Similarly, if a photon is absorbed by an atom, the energy of the photon moves an electron from a lower energy orbit up to a more excited one.

Figure $$\PageIndex{1}$$: Quantum numbers and energy levels in a hydrogen atom. The more negative the calculated value, the lower the energy.

We can relate the energy of electrons in atoms to what we learned previously about energy. The law of conservation of energy says that we can neither create nor destroy energy. Thus, if a certain amount of external energy is required to excite an electron from one energy level to another, that same amount of energy will be liberated when the electron returns to its initial state (Figure $$\PageIndex{2}$$). In effect, an atom can “store” energy by using it to promote an electron to a state with a higher energy and release it when the electron returns to a lower state. The energy can be released as one quantum of energy, as the electron returns to its ground state (say, from $$n = 5$$ to $$n = 1$$), or it can be released as two or more smaller quanta as the electron falls to an intermediate state, then to the ground state (say, from $$n = 5$$ to $$n = 4$$, emitting one quantum, then to $$n = 1$$, emitting a second quantum).

Since Bohr’s model involved only a single electron, it could also be applied to the single electron ions He+, Li2+, Be3+, and so forth, which differ from hydrogen only in their nuclear charges, and so one-electron atoms and ions are collectively referred to as hydrogen-like or hydrogenic atoms. The energy expression for hydrogen-like atoms is a generalization of the hydrogen atom energy, in which $$Z$$ is the nuclear charge (+1 for hydrogen, +2 for He, +3 for Li, and so on) and $$k$$ has a value of $$2.179 \times 10^{–18}\; J$$.

$\color{red} E_n=−\dfrac{kZ^2}{n^2} \label{6.3.5}$

The sizes of the circular orbits for hydrogen-like atoms are given in terms of their radii by the following expression, in which $$a_o$$ is a constant called the Bohr radius, with a value of $$5.292 \times 10^{−11}\; m$$:

$\color{red} r=\dfrac{n^2}{Z} a_0 \label{6.3.6}$

The equation also shows us that as the electron’s energy increases (as $$n$$ increases), the electron is found at greater distances from the nucleus. This is implied by the inverse dependence on $$r$$ in the Coulomb potential, since, as the electron moves away from the nucleus, the electrostatic attraction between it and the nucleus decreases, and it is held less tightly in the atom. Note that as $$n$$ gets larger and the orbits get larger, their energies get closer to zero, and so the limits $$n⟶∞$$ and $$r⟶∞$$ imply that $$E = 0$$ corresponds to the ionization limit where the electron is completely removed from the nucleus. Thus, for hydrogen in the ground state $$n = 1$$, the ionization energy would be:

$ΔE=E_{n⟶∞} −E_1=0+k=k \label{6.3.7}$

With three extremely puzzling paradoxes now solved (blackbody radiation, the photoelectric effect, and the hydrogen atom), and all involving Planck’s constant in a fundamental manner, it became clear to most physicists at that time that the classical theories that worked so well in the macroscopic world were fundamentally flawed and could not be extended down into the microscopic domain of atoms and molecules. Unfortunately, despite Bohr’s remarkable achievement in deriving a theoretical expression for the Rydberg constant, he was unable to extend his theory to the next simplest atom, He, which only has two electrons. Bohr’s model was severely flawed, since it was still based on the classical mechanics notion of precise orbits, a concept that was later found to be untenable in the microscopic domain, when a proper model of quantum mechanics was developed to supersede classical mechanics.

## Behavior in the Microscopic World

We know how matter behaves in the macroscopic world—objects that are large enough to be seen by the naked eye follow the rules of classical physics. A billiard ball moving on a table will behave like a particle: It will continue in a straight line unless it collides with another ball or the table cushion, or is acted on by some other force (such as friction). The ball has a well-defined position and velocity (or a well-defined momentum, p = mv, defined by mass m and velocity v) at any given moment. In other words, the ball is moving in a classical trajectory. This is the typical behavior of a classical object.

When waves interact with each other, they show interference patterns that are not displayed by macroscopic particles such as the billiard ball. For example, interacting waves on the surface of water can produce interference patters similar to those shown on Figure $$\PageIndex{1}$$. This is a case of wave behavior on the macroscopic scale, and it is clear that particles and waves are very different phenomena in the macroscopic realm.

As technological improvements allowed scientists to probe the microscopic world in greater detail, it became increasingly clear by the 1920s that very small pieces of matter follow a different set of rules from those we observe for large objects. The unquestionable separation of waves and particles was no longer the case for the microscopic world.

One of the first people to pay attention to the special behavior of the microscopic world was Louis de Broglie. He asked the question: If electromagnetic radiation can have particle-like character, can electrons and other submicroscopic particles exhibit wavelike character? In his 1925 doctoral dissertation, de Broglie extended the wave–particle duality of light that Einstein used to resolve the photoelectric-effect paradox to material particles. He predicted that a particle with mass m and velocity v (that is, with linear momentum p) should also exhibit the behavior of a wave with a wavelength value λ, given by this expression in which h is the familiar Planck’s constant

$\lambda=\dfrac{h}{mv}=\dfrac{h}{p} \label{6.4.1}$

This is called the de Broglie wavelength. Unlike the other values of λ discussed in this chapter, the de Broglie wavelength is a characteristic of particles and other bodies, not electromagnetic radiation (note that this equation involves velocity [v, m/s], not frequency [ν, Hz]. Although these two symbols are identical, they mean very different things). Where Bohr had postulated the electron as being a particle orbiting the nucleus in quantized orbits, de Broglie argued that Bohr’s assumption of quantization can be explained if the electron is considered not as a particle, but rather as a circular standing wave such that only an integer number of wavelengths could fit exactly within the orbit (Figure $$\PageIndex{2}$$).

Shortly after de Broglie proposed the wave nature of matter, two scientists at Bell Laboratories, C. J. Davisson and L. H. Germer, demonstrated experimentally that electrons can exhibit wavelike behavior by showing an interference pattern for electrons travelling through a regular atomic pattern in a crystal. The regularly spaced atomic layers served as slits, as used in other interference experiments. Since the spacing between the layers serving as slits needs to be similar in size to the wavelength of the tested wave for an interference pattern to form, Davisson and Germer used a crystalline nickel target for their “slits,” since the spacing of the atoms within the lattice was approximately the same as the de Broglie wavelengths of the electrons that they used. Figure $$\PageIndex{4}$$ shows an interference pattern.

The wave–particle duality of matter can be seen by observing what happens if electron collisions are recorded over a long period of time. Initially, when only a few electrons have been recorded, they show clear particle-like behavior, having arrived in small localized packets that appear to be random. As more and more electrons arrived and were recorded, a clear interference pattern that is the hallmark of wavelike behavior emerged. Thus, it appears that while electrons are small localized particles, their motion does not follow the equations of motion implied by classical mechanics, but instead it is governed by some type of a wave equation that governs a probability distribution even for a single electron’s motion. Thus the wave–particle duality first observed with photons is actually a fundamental behavior intrinsic to all quantum particles.

View the Dr. Quantum – Double Slit Experiment cartoon for an easy-to-understand description of wave–particle duality and the associated experiments.

We never think of a thrown softball having a wavelength, since this wavelength is so small it is impossible for our senses or any known instrument to detect (strictly speaking, the wavelength of a real baseball would correspond to the wavelengths of its constituent atoms and molecules, which, while much larger than this value, would still be microscopically tiny). The de Broglie wavelength is only appreciable for matter that has a very small mass and/or a very high velocity.

Werner Heisenberg considered the limits of how accurately we can measure properties of an electron or other microscopic particles. He determined that there is a fundamental limit to how accurately one can measure both a particle’s position and its momentum simultaneously. The more accurately we measure the momentum of a particle, the less accurately we can determine its position at that time, and vice versa. This is summed up in what we now call the Heisenberg uncertainty principle: It is fundamentally impossible to determine simultaneously and exactly both the momentum and the position of a particle.

Heisenberg’s principle imposes ultimate limits on what is knowable in science. The uncertainty principle can be shown to be a consequence of wave–particle duality, which lies at the heart of what distinguishes modern quantum theory from classical mechanics. Recall that the equations of motion obtained from classical mechanics are trajectories where, at any given instant in time, both the position and the momentum of a particle can be determined exactly. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle implies that such a view is untenable in the microscopic domain and that there are fundamental limitations governing the motion of quantum particles. This does not mean that microscopic particles do not move in trajectories, it is just that measurements of trajectories are limited in their precision. In the realm of quantum mechanics, measurements introduce changes into the system that is being observed.

## The Quantum–Mechanical Model of an Atom

Shortly after de Broglie published his ideas that the electron in a hydrogen atom could be better thought of as being a circular standing wave instead of a particle moving in quantized circular orbits, as Bohr had argued, Erwin Schrödinger extended de Broglie’s work by incorporating the de Broglie relation into a wave equation, deriving what is today known as the Schrödinger equation. Schrödinger’s work, as well as that of Heisenberg and many other scientists following in their footsteps, is generally referred to as quantum mechanics.

## Understanding Quantum Theory of Electrons in Atoms

The goal of this section is to understand the electron orbitals (location of electrons in atoms), their different energies, and other properties. The use of quantum theory provides the best understanding to these topics. This knowledge is a precursor to chemical bonding.

As was described previously, electrons in atoms can exist only on discrete energy levels but not between them. It is said that the energy of an electron in an atom is quantized, that is, it can be equal only to certain specific values and can jump from one energy level to another but not transition smoothly or stay between these levels.

The energy levels are labeled with an n value, where n = 1, 2, 3, …. Generally speaking, the energy of an electron in an atom is greater for greater values of n. This number, n, is referred to as the principal quantum number. The principal quantum number defines the location of the energy level. It is essentially the same concept as the n in the Bohr atom description. Another name for the principal quantum number is the shell number. The shells of an atom can be thought of concentric circles radiating out from the nucleus. The electrons that belong to a specific shell are most likely to be found within the corresponding circular area. The further we proceed from the nucleus, the higher the shell number, and so the higher the energy level (Figure $$\PageIndex{5}$$). The positively charged protons in the nucleus stabilize the electronic orbitals by electrostatic attraction between the positive charges of the protons and the negative charges of the electrons. So the further away the electron is from the nucleus, the greater the energy it has.

This quantum mechanical model for where electrons reside in an atom can be used to look at electronic transitions, the events when an electron moves from one energy level to another. If the transition is to a higher energy level, energy is absorbed, and the energy change has a positive value. To obtain the amount of energy necessary for the transition to a higher energy level, a photon is absorbed by the atom. A transition to a lower energy level involves a release of energy, and the energy change is negative. This process is accompanied by emission of a photon by the atom.

The principal quantum number is one of three quantum numbers used to characterize an orbital. An atomic orbital, which is distinct from an orbit, is a general region in an atom within which an electron is most probable to reside. The quantum mechanical model specifies the probability of finding an electron in the three-dimensional space around the nucleus and is based on solutions of the Schrödinger equation. In addition, the principal quantum number defines the energy of an electron in a hydrogen or hydrogen-like atom or an ion (an atom or an ion with only one electron) and the general region in which discrete energy levels of electrons in a multi-electron atoms and ions are located.

Another quantum number is l, the angular momentum quantum number. It is an integer that defines the shape of the orbital, and takes on the values, l = 0, 1, 2, …, n – 1. This means that an orbital with n = 1 can have only one value of l, l = 0, whereas n = 2 permits l = 0 and l = 1, and so on. The principal quantum number defines the general size and energy of the orbital. The l value specifies the shape of the orbital. Orbitals with the same value of l form a subshell. In addition, the greater the angular momentum quantum number, the greater is the angular momentum of an electron at this orbital.

Orbitals with l = 0 are called s orbitals (or the s subshells). The value l = 1 corresponds to the p orbitals. For a given n, p orbitals constitute a p subshell (e.g., 3p if n = 3). The orbitals with l = 2 are called the d orbitals, followed by the f-, g-, and h-orbitals for l = 3, 4, 5, and there are higher values we will not consider.

There are certain distances from the nucleus at which the probability density of finding an electron located at a particular orbital is zero. In other words, the value of the wavefunction ψ is zero at this distance for this orbital. Such a value of radius r is called a radial node. The number of radial nodes in an orbital is nl – 1.

Consider the examples in Figure $$\PageIndex{7}$$. The orbitals depicted are of the s type, thus l = 0 for all of them. It can be seen from the graphs of the probability densities that there are 1 – 0 – 1 = 0 places where the density is zero (nodes) for 1s (n = 1), 2 – 0 – 1 = 1 node for 2s, and 3 – 0 – 1 = 2 nodes for the 3s orbitals.

The s subshell electron density distribution is spherical and the p subshell has a dumbbell shape. The d and f orbitals are more complex. These shapes represent the three-dimensional regions within which the electron is likely to be found.

If an electron has an angular momentum (l ≠ 0), then this vector can point in different directions. In addition, the z component of the angular momentum can have more than one value. This means that if a magnetic field is applied in the z direction, orbitals with different values of the z component of the angular momentum will have different energies resulting from interacting with the field. The magnetic quantum number, called ml, specifies the z component of the angular momentum for a particular orbital. For example, for an s orbital, l = 0, and the only value of ml is zero. For p orbitals, l = 1, and ml can be equal to –1, 0, or +1. Generally speaking, ml can be equal to –l, –(l – 1), …, –1, 0, +1, …, (l – 1), l. The total number of possible orbitals with the same value of l (a subshell) is 2l + 1. Thus, there is one s-orbital for ml = 0, there are three p-orbitals for ml = 1, five d-orbitals for ml = 2, seven f-orbitals for ml = 3, and so forth. The principal quantum number defines the general value of the electronic energy. The angular momentum quantum number determines the shape of the orbital. And the magnetic quantum number specifies orientation of the orbital in space, as can be seen in Figure $$\PageIndex{7}$$.

Figure $$\PageIndex{8}$$ illustrates the energy levels for various orbitals. The number before the orbital name (such as 2s, 3p, and so forth) stands for the principal quantum number, n. The letter in the orbital name defines the subshell with a specific angular momentum quantum number l = 0 for s orbitals, 1 for p orbitals, 2 for d orbitals. Finally, there are more than one possible orbitals for l ≥ 1, each corresponding to a specific value of ml. In the case of a hydrogen atom or a one-electron ion (such as He+, Li2+, and so on), energies of all the orbitals with the same n are the same. This is called a degeneracy, and the energy levels for the same principal quantum number, n, are called degenerate energy levels. However, in atoms with more than one electron, this degeneracy is eliminated by the electron–electron interactions, and orbitals that belong to different subshells have different energies. Orbitals within the same subshell (for example ns, np, nd, nf, such as 2p, 3s) are still degenerate and have the same energy.

While the three quantum numbers discussed in the previous paragraphs work well for describing electron orbitals, some experiments showed that they were not sufficient to explain all observed results. It was demonstrated in the 1920s that when hydrogen-line spectra are examined at extremely high resolution, some lines are actually not single peaks but, rather, pairs of closely spaced lines. This is the so-called fine structure of the spectrum, and it implies that there are additional small differences in energies of electrons even when they are located in the same orbital. These observations led Samuel Goudsmit and George Uhlenbeck to propose that electrons have a fourth quantum number. They called this the spin quantum number, or ms.

The other three quantum numbers, n, l, and ml, are properties of specific atomic orbitals that also define in what part of the space an electron is most likely to be located. Orbitals are a result of solving the Schrödinger equation for electrons in atoms. The electron spin is a different kind of property. It is a completely quantum phenomenon with no analogues in the classical realm. In addition, it cannot be derived from solving the Schrödinger equation and is not related to the normal spatial coordinates (such as the Cartesian x, y, and z). Electron spin describes an intrinsic electron “rotation” or “spinning.” Each electron acts as a tiny magnet or a tiny rotating object with an angular momentum, even though this rotation cannot be observed in terms of the spatial coordinates.

The magnitude of the overall electron spin can only have one value, and an electron can only “spin” in one of two quantized states. One is termed the α state, with the z component of the spin being in the positive direction of the z axis. This corresponds to the spin quantum number $$m_s​=\dfrac{1}{2}$$. The other is called the β state, with the z component of the spin being negative and $$m_s​=−\dfrac{1}{2}$$. Any electron, regardless of the atomic orbital it is located in, can only have one of those two values of the spin quantum number. The energies of electrons having $$m_s​=−\dfrac{1}{2}$$ and $$m_s​=\dfrac{1}{2}$$ are different if an external magnetic field is applied.

Figure $$\PageIndex{9}$$ illustrates this phenomenon. An electron acts like a tiny magnet. Its moment is directed up (in the positive direction of the z axis) for the $$\dfrac{1}{2}$$ spin quantum number and down (in the negative z direction) for the spin quantum number of $$−\ce{1/2}$$. A magnet has a lower energy if its magnetic moment is aligned with the external magnetic field (the left electron) and a higher energy for the magnetic moment being opposite to the applied field. This is why an electron with $$m_s=\dfrac{1}{2}$$ has a slightly lower energy in an external field in the positive z direction, and an electron with $$m_s=−\dfrac{1}{2}$$ has a slightly higher energy in the same field. This is true even for an electron occupying the same orbital in an atom. A spectral line corresponding to a transition for electrons from the same orbital but with different spin quantum numbers has two possible values of energy; thus, the line in the spectrum will show a fine structure splitting.

## The Pauli Exclusion Principle

An electron in an atom is completely described by four quantum numbers: n, l, ml, and ms. The first three quantum numbers define the orbital and the fourth quantum number describes the intrinsic electron property called spin. An Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli formulated a general principle that gives the last piece of information that we need to understand the general behavior of electrons in atoms. The Pauli exclusion principle can be formulated as follows: No two electrons in the same atom can have exactly the same set of all the four quantum numbers. What this means is that electrons can share the same orbital (the same set of the quantum numbers n, l, and ml), but only if their spin quantum numbers ms have different values. Since the spin quantum number can only have two values $$\left(±\dfrac{1}{2}\right)$$, no more than two electrons can occupy the same orbital (and if two electrons are located in the same orbital, they must have opposite spins). Therefore, any atomic orbital can be populated by only zero, one, or two electrons. The properties and meaning of the quantum numbers of electrons in atoms are briefly summarized in Table $$\PageIndex{1}$$.

Table $$\PageIndex{1}$$: Quantum Numbers, Their Properties, and Significance
Name Symbol Allowed values Physical meaning
principal quantum number n 1, 2, 3, 4, …. shell, the general region for the value of energy for an electron on the orbital
angular momentum or azimuthal quantum number l 0 ≤ ln – 1 subshell, the shape of the orbital
magnetic quantum number ml lmll orientation of the orbital
spin quantum number ms $$\dfrac{1}{2},\:−\dfrac{1}{2}$$ direction of the intrinsic quantum “spinning” of the electron

Example $$\PageIndex{2}$$: Working with Shells and Subshells

Indicate the number of subshells, the number of orbitals in each subshell, and the values of l and ml for the orbitals in the n = 4 shell of an atom.

Solution

For n = 4, l can have values of 0, 1, 2, and 3. Thus, s, p, d, and f subshells are found in the n = 4 shell of an atom. For l = 0 (the s subshell), ml can only be 0. Thus, there is only one 4s orbital. For l = 1 (p-type orbitals), m can have values of –1, 0, +1, so we find three 4p orbitals. For l = 2 (d-type orbitals), ml can have values of –2, –1, 0, +1, +2, so we have five 4d orbitals. When l = 3 (f-type orbitals), ml can have values of –3, –2, –1, 0, +1, +2, +3, and we can have seven 4f orbitals. Thus, we find a total of 16 orbitals in the n = 4 shell of an atom.

Exercise $$\PageIndex{2}$$

Identify the subshell in which electrons with the following quantum numbers are found:

1. n = 3, l = 1;
2. n = 5, l = 3;
3. n = 2, l = 0.

3p

5f

2s

Example $$\PageIndex{3}$$: Maximum Number of Electrons

Calculate the maximum number of electrons that can occupy a shell with (a) n = 2, (b) n = 5, and (c) n as a variable. Note you are only looking at the orbitals with the specified n value, not those at lower energies.

Solution

(a) When n = 2, there are four orbitals (a single 2s orbital, and three orbitals labeled 2p). These four orbitals can contain eight electrons.

(b) When n = 5, there are five subshells of orbitals that we need to sum:

\begin{align*} &\phantom{+}\textrm{1 orbital labeled }5s\\ &\phantom{+}\textrm{3 orbitals labeled }5p\\ &\phantom{+}\textrm{5 orbitals labeled }5d\\ &\phantom{+}\textrm{7 orbitals labeled }5f\\ &\underline{+\textrm{9 orbitals labeled }5g}\\ &\,\textrm{25 orbitals total} \end{align*}

Again, each orbital holds two electrons, so 50 electrons can fit in this shell.

(c) The number of orbitals in any shell n will equal n2. There can be up to two electrons in each orbital, so the maximum number of electrons will be 2 × n2

Exercise $$\PageIndex{3}$$

If a shell contains a maximum of 32 electrons, what is the principal quantum number, n?

n = 4

Example $$\PageIndex{4}$$: Working with Quantum Numbers

Complete the following table for atomic orbitals:

Orbital n l ml degeneracy Radial nodes (no.)
4f
4 1
7 7 3
5d

Solution

The table can be completed using the following rules:

• The orbital designation is nl, where l = 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, … is mapped to the letter sequence s, p, d, f, g, h, …,
• The ml degeneracy is the number of orbitals within an l subshell, and so is 2l + 1 (there is one s orbital, three p orbitals, five d orbitals, seven f orbitals, and so forth).
• The number of radial nodes is equal to n – l – 1.
Orbital n l ml degeneracy Radial nodes (no.)
4f 4 3 7 0
4p 4 1 3 2
7f 7 3 7 3
5d 5 2 5 2

Exercise $$\PageIndex{4}$$

How many orbitals have l = 2 and n = 3?

The five degenerate 3d orbitals

## Summary

Macroscopic objects act as particles. Microscopic objects (such as electrons) have properties of both a particle and a wave. Their exact trajectories cannot be determined. The quantum mechanical model of atoms describes the three-dimensional position of the electron in a probabilistic manner according to a mathematical function called a wavefunction, often denoted as ψ. Atomic wavefunctions are also called orbitals. The squared magnitude of the wavefunction describes the distribution of the probability of finding the electron in a particular region in space. Therefore, atomic orbitals describe the areas in an atom where electrons are most likely to be found.

An atomic orbital is characterized by three quantum numbers. The principal quantum number, n, can be any positive integer. The general region for value of energy of the orbital and the average distance of an electron from the nucleus are related to n. Orbitals having the same value of n are said to be in the same shell. The angular momentum quantum number, l, can have any integer value from 0 to n – 1. This quantum number describes the shape or type of the orbital. Orbitals with the same principal quantum number and the same l value belong to the same subshell. The magnetic quantum number, ml, with 2l + 1 values ranging from –l to +l, describes the orientation of the orbital in space. In addition, each electron has a spin quantum number, ms, that can be equal to $$±\dfrac{1}{2}$$. No two electrons in the same atom can have the same set of values for all the four quantum numbers.

## Glossary

angular momentum quantum number (l)
quantum number distinguishing the different shapes of orbitals; it is also a measure of the orbital angular momentum
atomic orbital
mathematical function that describes the behavior of an electron in an atom (also called the wavefunction), it can be used to find the probability of locating an electron in a specific region around the nucleus, as well as other dynamical variables
d orbital
region of space with high electron density that is either four lobed or contains a dumbbell and torus shape; describes orbitals with l = 2. An electron in this orbital is called a d electron
electron density
a measure of the probability of locating an electron in a particular region of space, it is equal to the squared absolute value of the wave function ψ
f orbital
multilobed region of space with high electron density, describes orbitals with l = 3. An electron in this orbital is called an f electron
Heisenberg uncertainty principle
rule stating that it is impossible to exactly determine both certain conjugate dynamical properties such as the momentum and the position of a particle at the same time. The uncertainty principle is a consequence of quantum particles exhibiting wave–particle duality
magnetic quantum number (ml)
quantum number signifying the orientation of an atomic orbital around the nucleus; orbitals having different values of ml but the same subshell value of l have the same energy (are degenerate), but this degeneracy can be removed by application of an external magnetic field
p orbital
dumbbell-shaped region of space with high electron density, describes orbitals with l = 1. An electron in this orbital is called a p electron
Pauli exclusion principle
specifies that no two electrons in an atom can have the same value for all four quantum numbers
principal quantum number (n)
quantum number specifying the shell an electron occupies in an atom
quantum mechanics
field of study that includes quantization of energy, wave-particle duality, and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to describe matter
s orbital
spherical region of space with high electron density, describes orbitals with l = 0. An electron in this orbital is called an s electron
shell
set of orbitals with the same principal quantum number, n
spin quantum number (ms)
number specifying the electron spin direction, either $$+\dfrac{1}{2}$$ or $$−\dfrac{1}{2}$$
subshell
set of orbitals in an atom with the same values of n and l
wavefunction (ψ)
mathematical description of an atomic orbital that describes the shape of the orbital; it can be used to calculate the probability of finding the electron at any given location in the orbital, as well as dynamical variables such as the energy and the angular momentum