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The structure of atoms.

What will be covered?


The nucleus
Atomic weight
Electronic structure
Electronic configuration of the elements
Periodic table

Why do we need to know this material?

Atomic structure is the foundation of Materials Science.
This material will form the basis for understanding the interatomic and
intermolecular forces to be covered in the next section.
Atoms consist of nuclei and electrons.
Nuclei are composed of protons and neutrons.
Protons carry a positive charge of 1.69x10-19 coulombs and have a mass
at rest of 1.67x10-24 g.
Neutrons have no charge and have the same rest mass as protons.
Overall the nucleus is thus positively charged.
This charge is balanced by an equal charge due to a number of electrons
equal to the number of protons (for neutral atoms).
Each electron carries a charge of 1.69x10-19 coulombs.
The number of protons in the nucleus is called the atomic number (this
defines the elemental identity).

The number of neutrons in a nucleus is larger than or equal to the number

of protons, with the larger excess of neutrons occurring for the larger
atomic numbers.
Many elements have isotopes, i.e. their nuclei contain an equal number of
protons but have different numbers of neutrons; some of these isotopes
are stable while others decompose via radioactive decay.
Atomic weight.
The atomic weight is given in terms of atomic mass units (amu) and
indicates the mass of the atom in units of 1/12 the mass of the carbon
isotope with 6 protons and 6 neutrons.
The isotope therefore has an arbitrary atomic weight of 12 amu and is
represented as 6C12.
Here the subscript is the atomic number and the superscript the mass
number, i.e. the sum of the number of protons and neutrons.
Atomic weights are not whole numbers except for C12 by definition.
The actual masses of the nuclei are not equal to the sum of the masses of
all protons and neutrons but differ from that sum by the binding energy
expresses as mass according to E=mc2.
Atomic weights are normally weighted according to the natural
abundance of the isotopes.
For elements with large atomic masses, the binding energy is such that if
an atom is split, the sum of the binding energies of the two resulting
smaller nuclei is smaller than that of the parent nucleus.
The difference is liberated as energy (fission).
For the case of elements with small atomic masses such as hydrogen,
energy is liberated when nuclei are fused (fusion).
Electronic structure.
From a basic materials science point of view, the arrangement of the
electrons is the most important aspect of atomic structure.

The electronic structure determines the type and strength of the chemical
bonds that can be established with other atoms and hence determines
many important materials properties.
For our purpose, we can consider electrons as particles, which surround
the nucleus in some particular fashion such that their number is equal to
the atomic number of the element (for neutral atoms).
Example: the carbon atom: outside the nucleus it has six electrons. Using
the Bohr theory of atomic structure, these were believed to be arranged
in orbits of increasing distance from the nucleus. These orbits
corresponded to gradually increasing levels of energy, that of the lowest
energy, the 1s, accommodating two electrons, the next 2s, also
accommodating two electrons and the remaining two electrons of the
carbon atom going into the 2p level, which is actually capable of
accommodating a total of six electrons.
The Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the wave mechanical view of
the electron have made it necessary to do away with anything so
precisely defined as actual orbits. Instead, the wave-like electrons are
now symbolized by wave functions such that the precise classical orbitals
of Bohr are superceded by three-dimensional atomic orbitals of differing
energy level.
Thus, from quantum theory it can be established that electrons have
different energies; discrete electron energy levels can be described in
terms of quantum numbers.

Schrdinger Wave Equation (SWE):

where h is Planks constant, m is the particle mass, V(x,y,z) is the potential

energy, and (x,y,z,t) is the wave function.
Solutions to the SWE generate four quantum numbers.
There is a principal quantum number (n), which can assume only integer
values (n = 1,2,3,4).
Each of these numbers designates a shell around the atom in which
certain electrons exist.
Generally, the larger the value of n, the larger the energy of the electron
in that shell.
Within each shell the electrons carry a further quantum number (I).
This azimuthal quantum number is associated with the total orbital angular
momentum and can assume values from 0 to n-1.
As a rule, energy increases with increasing I (although there are
The shells are further subdivided by the magnetic quantum number mI are
Finally, a fourth quantum number (s) which takes into account the
electron spin direction is assigned values of 1/2.
In order to develop a simple model of electron distribution in the elements
we must take into account the Pauli exclusion principle: only one electron
can be in a particular quantum state at a particular time, i.e. no two
electrons can have identical values of the four quantum numbers.
The maximum number of electrons that can exist in each shell is given by

The maximum number of electrons that can occupy the 1 subshell is

An alternate scheme is often used to indicate the electron quantum
values in terms of capital letter for the principal quantum numbers
(K,L,M,) and lower case letters for the azimuthal quantum numbers (s, p,
d and f).

Electronic configuration of the elements.

The electrons of an atom are generally assigned spaces in shells and
subshells according to increasing energy.
As a rule, this is in order of increasing n, and within n in order of increasing
There are important exceptions to this scheme.
The energy of the typical 4s shell is lower than the energy of the 3d shell;
similarly, the energy of the typical 5s shell is lower than the energy of the
4d shell.
Therefore, the s shells are filled before the d shells with the lower main
quantum number.
This has important consequences regarding the magnetic properties of
the affected elements.

This is related to the ability of the atom to enter into the chemical
combination with other elements, i.e. atomic bonding.
Valence is often determined by the number of electrons in the outermost
combined sp level.
These sp electrons may be added to, lost or shared with other atoms thus
determining the nature of the atomic bonds.
The ground state of the carbon atom will be: 1s2 2s2 2px1 2py1 with the 2pz
orbital unoccupied. The two unpaired electrons are available for the
formation of bonds with other atoms and at first sight appears divalent
whereas the majority of stable compounds appear as quadrivalency. The
2s2 is therefore uncoupled to give 1s2 2s1 2px1 2py12pz1.
A carbon atom combining with four other atoms clearly does not use the
one 2s and the thre 2p atomic orbitals that would now be available for
this would lead to the formation of three directed bonds, mutually at right
angles to one another (with the three 2p orbitals), and one different, nondirected bond (with the spherical 2s orbital). Whereas in fact, the four C-H
bonds in, for example, methane (CH4) are known to be identical and
symmetrically (tetrahedrally) disposed at an angle of 109o 28 to each
other. This may be accounted for on the basis of re-deploying the 2s and
the three 2p atomic obitals so as to yield four new (identical) orbitals,
which are capable of forming stronger bonds. These new orbitals are
known as sp3 hybrid atomic orbitals, and the process by which they are
formed is known as hybridization.
When a carbon combines with three other atoms (e.g. ethylene, C2H4) we
have three sp2 hybrid atomic orbitals disposed at 120o to each other in
the same plane (plane trigonal hybridization).
When a carbon atom combines with two other atoms (e.g. acetylene,
C2H2), two sp1 hybrid atomic orbitals disposed 180o to each other
(digonal hybridization) are formed. In each case the s orbital is always
involved as it is the one of lowest energy.
Hybridization takes place so that the atom concerned can form as strong
a bond as possible, and so that the atoms thus bonded (and the electron
pairs constituting the bonds) are as far apart from each other as possible

to ensure that the total intrinsic energy of the resultant compound is at a

Periodic table of the elements.
Based upon their electronic configurations, the elements can be sensibly
ordered in an arrangement known as the periodic table.
The chemical character of an element is controlled by its atomic number
and by the configuration of the outermost electrons.
The electronic arrangement determines the group (vertical columns) into
which the element will fall whereas the atomic number determines the
position within this group.
Columns refer to the number of electrons present in the outermost sp
energy level and correspond to the most common valence.
Horizontal rows are called periods and correspond to the value of the
principal quantum numbers.
Arranged in this way, there is a certain similarity of the chemical properties
of the elements in a group as well as a systematic variation across a
Some groups of elements are given certain names to emphasize their
chemical similarity:
Group IA: alkali metals
Group IIA: alkaline earth metals
Group VIIA: halogens
Group O: noble gases
Electronegativity of the elements increases progressively from left to right
and bottom to top.
Metals are electropositive whereas non-metals are electronegative.
Classification according to 16 non-metals, 6 intermediates and the
balance as metals.