CHM 1020--Chemistry for Liberal Studies--Fall 2000

Visualizing the Atomic Orbitals of Hydrogen

Rather than circular orbits as in Bohr's planetary model of the hydrogen atom, the path of the electron is not possible to determine in detail.  Because of its wave properties, the effect of the electron as a three dimensional standing wave can be described by mathematical equations called orbitals.  These equations can be used to generate a three-dimensional picture of the average distribution of the electron over the space of the atom, and the orbital pictures are useful in understanding some of the properties of the electron as it participates in bonding.  The nature and derivation of these orbital equations are well beyond the scope of this course.  But the pictures they generate are constructive in helping us get a mental picture of the behavior of electrons in atoms.  Following are two web sites that have show these pictures in different ways.

  • A computer simulation actually generates a picture of the orbitals on request by using the orbital equations to calculate the probability of the electron being at any one of several thousand coordinate  positions.  Click on the orbital type you are interested in, and watch the colored distribution "cloud" be generated in the coordinate system.
  • A set of orbital images  as jpeg graphics files. Click on the orbital in the table.  (Some other links on this page are out of date and do not link to anything) 
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