FearOfPhysics.com: A Different Approach to the Atom

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A Different Approach to the Atom

Because atoms are so small, no one can see them. And if we try to look at them (like with a very powerful microscope), we usually end up ruining them in the process, so we can never see them "as they are."

For this reason, we just can't say exactly where the electron is, as it moves about the nucleus. This makes the models involving orbits, whether circles, or ellipses, just plain wrong, because the orbits are pretty specific about the electron's whereabouts. In those orbit pictures, we know the electron will be somewhere on the white orbit lines.

This is what the whole theory of QUANTUM MECHANICS is all about: describing things that are very, very small.

But the pictures of an atom that quantum mechanics gives us are nothing like the orbits you saw before. Quantum Mechanics doesn't tell us where the electron is, just where it's most likely to be. It works like this:

Say you were a security guard at a large outdoor gathering, and you were looking for one person in particular (perhaps some "bad guy"). If you were up in a helicopter, looking down on the crowd, you might one of these views (a bunch of heads):

View #1

Where would you look for your person? From this view, there is no good place to start looking. The people are evenly scattered all over the place. Your person could be anywhere; just take a guess.

View #2

For some reason, the people seem to be gathering near the center. Looks like something is going on. You might have a better chance of finding your person if you started looking in the center. But maybe not!

Quantum mechanics does the same for where the electron might be around a nucleus of an atom. Instead of telling you exactly where the electron is (like in the orbits), it just tells you where the electron is most likely to be.

Let's take a look....

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