Electron Configuration, Chemistry tutorial


Like other elementary elements, the electron is subject to the laws of quantum mechanics, and exhibits both particle-like and wave-like nature. Officially, the quantum state of a meticulous electron is described via its wave function, a complex-worthy function of space and time. According to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, the situation of a particular electron isn't well identified until an act of measurement reasons it to be detected. The probability that perform of measurement will notice the electron at a particular point in space is proportional to the square of the complete value of the wave function at that point.

Definition of Configuration

In chemistry, the word 'electron configuration' refers to the arrangement of electrons; as they "orbit" around the nuclei of one, or more, atoms. It is the collection of electrons of an atom, a molecule, or other physical structure. It concerns the technique electrons can be allocated in the orbitals of the specified system (atomic or molecular for example).

Electron Atomic and Molecular Orbitals

Energy is connected to each electron configuration and, upon assured conditions; electrons are capable to shift from one orbital to another via discharge or absorption of a quantum of energy, in the shape of a photon. Information of the electron configuration of different atoms is helpful in understanding the structure of the periodic table of elements. The concept is as well helpful for describing the chemical bonds that hold atoms together. In bulk substances this similar idea assists explain the peculiar properties of lasers and semiconductors, shells and subshells. Electron configuration was 1st conceived of under the Bohr model of the atom, and it is still ordinary to converse of shells and subshells despite the progress in understanding of the quantum-mechanical nature of electrons.

An electron shell is locates of permitted states an electron might occupy that share the similar principal quantum number, n (the no before the letter in the orbital label). An electron shell can accommodate 2n2 electrons, for instance the 1st shell can accommodate 2 electrons, the 2nd shell 8 electrons, the 3rd shell 18 electrons, and so on. The feature of 2 happens since the permitted states are doubled due to electron spin-each atomic orbital admits up to 2 otherwise equal electrons through opposite spin, one through a spin +1/2 (generally noted via an up-arrow) and one through a spin -1/2 (via a down-arrow). A subshell is the set of states explained via a common azimuthal quantum no, l, inside a shell. The values l = 0, 1, 2, 3 correspond to the s, p, d, and f labels, likewise. The number of electrons that can be positioned in a subshell is specified via 2(2l + 1). This gives 2 electrons in an s subshell, 6 electrons in a p subshell, ten electrons in a d subshell and 14 electrons in an f subshell.

The numbers of electrons that can engage each shell and each subshell happen from the equations of quantum mechanics, in particular the Pauli Exclusion Principle that states that no 2 electrons in the similar atom can have the equivalent values of the 4 quantum numbers.


A normal notation is utilized to explain the electron configurations of atoms and molecules. For atoms, the information consists of a string of atomic orbital labels (for example 1s, 2p, 3d, 4f) through the number of electrons assigned to each orbital (or set of orbitals sharing the similar label) placed as a superscript. For example, hydrogen has 1 electron in the s-orbital of the 1st shell, so its arrangement is written 1s1. Lithium has 2 electrons in the 1s-subshell and one in the (higher-energy) 2s-subshell, so its configuration is written 1s2 2s1 (pronounced "one-s-two, two-s- one"). Phosphorus (atomic number 15), is as follows: 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p3.

For atoms through many electrons, this notation can become lengthy and so a reduced notation is utilized, noting that the 1st few subshells are identical to those of one or an additional of the noble gases. Phosphorus, for instance, fluctuates from neon (1s2 2s2 2p6) only through the existence of a 3rd shell.  Therefore, the electron configuration of neon is pulled out, and phosphorus is written as follows: [Ne] 3s2 3p3. This convention is helpful as it is the electrons in the outermost shell that most find out the chemistry of the element.

The order of writing the orbitals isn't absolutely fixed: several sources group all orbitals through the similar value of n mutually, while other sources (as here) follow the order specified via Madelung's rule. Therefore the electron arrangement of iron can be written as [Ar] 3d6 4s2   (keeping the 3d- electrons with the 3s- and 3p-electrons which are implied via the configuration of argon) or as [Ar] 4s2 3d6 (subsequent the Aufbau principle, see below).

The superscript 1 for a singly-occupied orbital isn't compulsory. It is quite common to see the letters of the orbital labels (s, p, d, f) written in an italic or slanting kind face, even though the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) recommends a common typeface (as used here). The choice of letters originates from a now-obsolete system of  categorizing  spectral  lines  as  "sharp",  "principal",  "diffuse"  and "fine",  depend  on  their  examined  fine  structure:  their  modern  usage specifies orbitals through an azimuthal quantum number,  l, of 0, 1, 2 or 3 correspondingly. After "f", the series continues alphabetically "g", "h", "I"... (l = 4, 5, 6...), even though orbitals of such kinds are rarely needed.

The electron configurations of molecules are written in a alike way, except that molecular orbital labels are utilized instead of atomic orbital labels.

Energy: Grounds State and Excited State

The energy connected to an electron is, which of its orbital. The energy of a configuration is frequently estimated as the addition of the energy of each electron, neglecting the electron-electron interfaces. The configuration that corresponds to the lowest electronic energy is termed the ground- state. Any other configuration is a stimulated state.


Niels Bohr (1923) was the first to propose that the periodicity in the properties of the elements might be explained by the electronic structure of the atom. His proposals were based on the then current Bohr model of the atom, in which the electron shells were orbits at a fixed distance from the nucleus. Bohr's original configurations would seem strange to a present-day chemist: sulfur was given as instead of 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p4 (2.8.6).

The  following  year,  E. C. Stoner  incorporated  Sommerfeld's 3rd quantum number  into the description of electron shells, and correctly predicted  the  shell  structure  of  sulfur  to  be  2.8.6.  Though  neither Bohr's  system  nor  Stoner's  could  properly explain  the  modifies  in atomic spectra in a magnetic field (the Zeeman consequence).

Bohr was well aware of this shortcoming (and others), and had written to his friend Wolfgang Pauli to ask for his assist in saving quantum theory (the system now known as "old quantum theory"). Pauli realized that the Zeeman effect must be due only to the outermost electrons of the atom, and was able to replicate Stoner's shell structure, but through the accurate structure of  subshells, via his  inclusion  of  a  fourth  quantum number and his elimination principle (1925):

It should be forbidden for more than one electron through the similar value of the major quantum number n to have the similar value for the other 3 quantum numbers k [l], l [ml] and m [ms]. The Schrödinger equation, published in the year 1926, gave three of the four quantum numbers as a straight result of its solution for the hydrogen atom: this solution yields the atomic orbitals that are revealed nowadays in textbooks of chemistry (and above). The examination of atomic spectra permitted the electron configurations of atoms to be computed experimentally, and led to an empirical rule (recognized as Madelung's rule (1936), see below) for the order in that atomic orbitals are filled by electrons.

Aufbau principle

The Aufbau principle (from the German Aufbau, "building up, construction") was a significant part of Bohr's original concept of electron configuration. It might be stated as: a maximum of 2 electrons are put into orbitals in the order of rising orbital energy: the lowest-energy orbitals are filled before electrons are situated in higher-energy orbitals.

The approximate order of filling of atomic orbitals following the arrows. The principle works very well (for the ground states of the atoms) for the first 18 elements, then increasingly less well for the subsequent 100 elements. The modern form of the Aufbau principle explains an order of orbital energies given by Madelung's rule, 1st stated via Erwin Madelung in the year 1936.

1. Orbitals are filled in the order of increasing n+l;

2. Where 2 orbitals have the similar value of n+l, they are filled in order of increasing n.

This provides the subsequent order for filling the orbitals:

1s, 2s, 2p, 3s, 3p, 4s, 3d, 4p, 5s, 4d, 5p, 6s, 4f, 5d, 6p, 7s, 5f, 6d, and 7p

The Aufbau principle can be applied, in a modified form, to the protons and neutrons in the atomic nucleus, as in the shell model of nuclear physics.

The periodic table

The form of  the  periodic  table  is  closely  related  to  the  electron configuration  of  the  atoms  of  the  elements. For instance, all the elements of group 2 have an electron configuration of [E] ns2 (where [E] is an inert gas configuration), and have notable similarities in their chemical properties. The outermost electron shell is often referred to as the 'valence shell' and (to a first approximation) determines the chemical properties. It should be remembered that the similarities in the chemical properties were remarked more than a century before the idea of electron configuration, It isn't clear how far Madelung's rule clarifies (rather than simply describes) the periodic table, although several properties (these as the common +2 oxidation state in the 1st row of the transition metals) would apparently be dissimilar by a dissimilar order of orbital filling.

Shortcomings of the Aufbau Principle

The Aufbau principle respites on a fundamental postulate that the order of orbital energies is attached, both for a specified element and between dissimilar elements: neither of such is true (even though they are about true enough for the principle to be useful). It believes atomic orbitals as 'boxes' of fixed energy into that can be situated 2 electrons and no more. Though the energy of an electron 'in' an atomic orbital based on the energies of all the other electrons of the atom (or ion, or molecule, and so on There are no 'one-electron solutions' for systems of more than one electron, only a set of many-electron solutions that can't be computed accurately (even though there are mathematical approximations available, such the Hartree-Fock method).

The fact that the Aufbau principle is depends on an approximation can be seen from the reality that there is an almost-fixed filling order at all, that, inside a following shell, and the s-orbital is always filled before the p-orbitals. In a hydrogen-like atom, which only has one electron, the s-orbital and the p-orbitals of the similar shell have exactly the same energy, to an extremely good approximation in the absence of external electromagnetic fields. (Though, in a real hydrogen atom, the energy levels are slightly split via the magnetic field of the nucleus and through the quantum electrodynamics consequences of the Lamb shift).

 Ionization of the Transition Metals

The naive application of the Aufbau principle leads to a well-known paradox (or apparent paradox) in the basic chemistry of the transition metals. Potassium and calcium appear in the periodic table before the transition metals, and have electron configurations [Ar] 4s1 and [Ar] 4s2 respectively, i.e. the 4s-orbital is filled before the 3d-orbital. This is in line with Madelung's rule, as the 4s-orbital has n+l = 4 (n = 4, l = 0) while the 3d-orbital has n+l = 5 (n = 3, l = 2). However, chromium and copper have electron configurations [Ar] 3d5 4s1 and [Ar] 3d10 4s1 respectively, i.e. one electron has passed from the 4s-orbital to a 3d- orbital to generate a half-filled or filled subshell. In this case, the usual explanation is that "half-filled or completely-filled subshells are particularly stable arrangements of electrons".

The apparent paradox arises whenever electrons are eliminated from the transition metal atoms to form ions. The 1st electrons to be ionized come not from the 3d-orbital, as one would suppose if it were "higher in energy", but from the 4s-orbital. The similar is true when chemical compounds are shaped. Chromium hex carbonyl can be explained as a chromium atom (not ion, it is in the oxidation state 0) surrounded through six carbon monoxide ligands: it is diamagnetic, and the electron configuration of the central chromium atom is illustrated as 3d6, for example the electron that was in the 4s-orbital in the free atom has passed into a 3d-orbital on forming the compound. This interchange of electrons between 4s and 3d is universal among the 1st series of the conversion metals.

The phenomenon is merely paradoxical if it is imagined that the energies of atomic orbitals are fixed and unaffected through the occurrence of electrons in other orbitals. If that were the case, the 3d-orbital would have the similar energy as the 3p-orbital, as it does in hydrogen, yet it clearly doesn't. There is no special cause the Fe2+ ion should have the similar electron configuration  as  the  chromium  atom,  specified  that  iron  has  2 more protons in  its nucleus than chromium and that the chemistry of the 2 species is incredibly dissimilar. When care is taken to evaluate 'like with like', the paradox disappears.

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