6.4: Hydrogen Atomic Orbitals Depend upon Three Quantum Numbers
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The solutions to the hydrogen atom Schrödinger equation discussed previously are functions that are products of a spherical harmonic function and a radial function.
\[ \psi _{n, l, m_\ell } (r, \theta , \varphi) = \underbrace{R_{n,\ell} (r)}_{radial} \underbrace{ Y^{m_\ell}_l (\theta , \varphi)}_{angular} \label {6.1.14}\]
The wavefunctions for the hydrogen atom depend upon the three variables r, \(\theta\), and \(\varphi \) and the three quantum numbers n, \(\ell\), and \(m_\ell\). The variables give the position of the electron relative to the proton in spherical coordinates. The absolute square of the wavefunction, \( \psi (r, \theta , \varphi )^2\), evaluated at \(r\), \(\theta \), and \(\varphi\) gives the probability density of finding the electron inside a differential volume \(d \tau\), centered at the position specified by \(r\), \(\theta \), and \(\varphi\).
The quantum numbers have names:
 \(n\) is called the principal quantum number,
 \(\ell\) is called the angular momentum quantum number, and
 \(m_\ell\) is called the magnetic quantum number because the energy in a magnetic field depends upon \(m_\ell\).
Often \(\ell\) is called the azimuthal quantum number because it is a consequence of the \(\theta\)equation, which involves the azimuthal angle \(\Theta \), referring to the angle to the zenith.
Radial Part of the Wavefunction
The asymptotic behavior (i.e., far away from the nucleus) to the radial part of the wavefunction is
\[ R_{asymptotic} (r) \sim \exp \left(\dfrac {r}{n} a_0 \right) \label {6.1.15}\]
where \(n\) will turn out to be a quantum number and \(a_0\) is the Bohr radius (~52.9 pm). Note that this function decreases exponentially with distance, in a manner similar to the decaying exponential portion of the harmonic oscillator wavefunctions, but with a different distance dependence, \(r\) vs. \(r^2\).
The polynomials produced by the truncation of the power series are related to the associated Laguerre polynomials, \(L_n , _l(r)\), where the set of \(c_i\) are constant coefficients.
\[L_n, _l (r) = \sum _{r=0}^{nl1} c_i r^i \label {6.1.16}\]
These polynomials are identified by two indices or quantum numbers, \(n\) and \(\ell\). Physically acceptable solutions require that \(n\) must be greater than or equal to \(l +1\). The smallest value for \(\ell\) is zero, so the smallest value for \(n\) is 1. The angular momentum quantum number affects the solution to the radial equation because it appears in the radial differential equation, (Equation \(\ref{6.1.14}\)).
The \(R(r)\) functions that solve the radial differential Equation \(\ref{6.1.14}\), are products of the associated Laguerre polynomials and the exponential factor, multiplied by a normalization factor \((N_{n,\ell})\) and \(\left (\dfrac {r}{a_0} \right ) ^l\).
\[R (r) = N_{n,\ell} \left ( \dfrac {r}{a_0} \right ) ^l L_{n,\ell} (r) e^{\frac {r}{n {a_0}}} \label {6.1.17}\]
The decreasing exponential term overpowers the increasing polynomial term so that the overall wavefunction exhibits the desired approach to zero at large values of \(r\). The first six radial functions are provided in Table \(\PageIndex{1}\). Note that the functions in the table exhibit a dependence on \(Z\), the atomic number of the nucleus. As discussed later in this chapter, other one electron systems have electronic states analogous to those for the hydrogen atom, and inclusion of the charge on the nucleus allows the same wavefunctions to be used for all oneelectron systems. For hydrogen, \(Z = 1\).






















The constraint that \(n\) be greater than or equal to \(l +1\) also turns out to quantize the energy, producing the same quantized expression for hydrogen atom energy levels that was obtained from the Bohr model of the hydrogen atom.
\[ E_n =  \dfrac {\mu e^4}{8 \epsilon ^2_0 h^2 n^2} \]
The Three Quantum Numbers
These quantum numbers have specific values that are dictated by the physical constraints or boundary conditions imposed upon the Schrödinger equation: n must be an integer greater than 0, \(\ell\) can have the values 0 to \(n‑1\), and \(m_\ell\) can have \(2l + 1\) values ranging from \(l\) ‑ to \(+l\) in unit or integer steps. The values of the quantum number \(\ell\) usually are coded by a letter: s means 0, p means 1, d means 2, f means 3; the next codes continue alphabetically (e.g., g means \(l = 4\)). The quantum numbers specify the quantization of physical quantities. The discrete energies of different states of the hydrogen atom are given by n, the magnitude of the angular momentum is given by \(\ell\), and one component of the angular momentum (usually chosen by chemists to be the z‑component) is given by \(m_\ell\). The total number of orbitals with a particular value of \(n\) is \(n^2\).
Contributors
David M. Hanson, Erica Harvey, Robert Sweeney, Theresa Julia Zielinski ("Quantum States of Atoms and Molecules")