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.
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)