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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Atomic theory

Atomic theory


This article focuses on the historical models of the atom. For a history of the study of how atoms combine to form molecules, see History of molecular theory.
In chemistry and physics, atomic theory is a theory of the nature of matter, which states that matter is composed of discrete units called atoms, as opposed to the obsolete notion that matter could be divided into any arbitrarily small quantity. It began as a philosophical concept in ancient Greece (Democritus) and India and entered the scientific mainstream in the early 19th century when discoveries in the field of chemistry showed that matter did indeed behave as if it were made up of particles.
The word "atom" (from the ancient Greek adjective atomos, 'indivisible'[1]) was applied to the basic particle that constituted a chemical element, because the chemists of the era believed that these were the fundamental particles of matter. However, around the turn of the 20th century, through various experiments with electromagnetism and radioactivity, physicists discovered that the so-called "indivisible atom" was actually a conglomerate of various subatomic particles (chiefly, electrons, protons and neutrons) which can exist separately from each other. In fact, in certain extreme environments such as neutron stars, extreme temperature and pressure prevents atoms from existing at all. Since atoms were found to be actually divisible, physicists later invented the term "elementary particles" to describe indivisible particles. The field of science which studies subatomic particles is particle physics, and it is in this field that physicists hope to discover the true fundamental nature of matter.

Discovery of subatomic particles

Discovery of subatomic particles

Thomson's illustration of the Crookes tube by which he proved the particle nature of cathode rays. Cathode rays were emitted from the cathode C, sharpened to a beam by slits A and B, then passed through the electric field generated between plates D and E.
When the cathode ray (blue line) passed through the electric field (yellow), it was deflected.
Atoms were thought to be the smallest possible division of matter until 1897 when J.J. Thomson discovered the electron through his work on cathode rays.[9] A Crookes tube is a sealed glass container in which two electrodes are separated by a vacuum. When a voltage is applied across the electrodes, cathode rays are generated, creating a glowing patch where they strike the glass at the opposite end of the tube. Through experimentation, Thomson discovered that the rays could be deflected by an electric field (in addition to magnetic fields, which was already known). He concluded that these rays, rather than being a form of light, were composed of very light negatively charged particles he called "corpuscles" (they would later be renamed electrons by other scientists).
Thomson believed that the corpuscles emerged from the molecules of gas around the cathode. He thus concluded that atoms were divisible, and that the corpuscles were their building blocks. To explain the overall neutral charge of the atom, he proposed that the corpuscles were distributed in a uniform sea of positive charge; this was the plum pudding model[10] as the electrons were embedded in the positive charge like plums in a plum pudding (although in Thomson's model they were not stationary). Thomson's illustration of the Crookes tube by which he proved the particle nature of cathode rays. Cathode rays were emitted from the cathode C, sharpened to a beam by slits A and B, then passed through the electric field generated between plates D and E. When the cathode ray (blue line) passed through the electric field (yellow), it was deflected.

Discovery of the nucleus

Discovery of the nucleus

The gold foil experiment
Top: Expected results: alpha particles passing through the plum pudding model of the atom with negligible deflection.
Bottom: Observed results: a small portion of the particles were deflected by the concentrated positive charge of the nucleus.
Thomson's plum pudding model was disproved in 1909 by one of his former students, Ernest Rutherford, who discovered that most of the mass and positive charge of an atom is concentrated in a very small fraction of its volume, which he assumed to be at the very center.
In the gold foil experiment, Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden (colleagues of Rutherford working at his behest) shot alpha particles at a thin sheet of gold, measuring their deflection with a fluorescent screen.[11] Given the very small mass of the electrons, the high momentum of the alpha particles and the unconcentrated distribution of positive charge of the plum pudding model, the experimenters expected all the alpha particles to pass through the gold sheet without significant deflection. To their astonishment, a small fraction of the alpha particles experienced heavy deflection.
This led Rutherford to propose a planetary model in which a cloud of electrons surrounded a small, compact nucleus of positive charge. Only such a concentration of charge could produce the electric field strong enough to cause the heavy deflection.[12]

First steps toward a quantum physical model of the atom

First steps toward a quantum physical model of the atom

The planetary model of the atom had two significant shortcomings. The first is that, unlike planets orbiting a sun, electrons are charged particles. An accelerating electric charge is known to emit electromagnetic waves according to the Larmor formula in classical electromagnetism; an orbiting charge should steadily lose energy and spiral toward the nucleus, colliding with it in a small fraction of a second. The second problem was that the planetary model could not explain the highly peaked emission and absorption spectra of atoms that were observed.
The Bohr model of the atom
Quantum theory revolutionized physics at the beginning of the 20th century, when Max Planck and Albert Einstein postulated that light energy is emitted or absorbed in discrete amounts known as quanta (singular, quantum). In 1913, Niels Bohr incorporated this idea into his Bohr model of the atom, in which an electron could only orbit the nucleus in particular circular orbits with fixed angular momentum and energy, its distance from the nucleus (i.e., their radii) being proportional to its energy.[13] Under this model an electron could not spiral into the nucleus because it could not lose energy in a continuous manner; instead, it could only make instantaneous "quantum leaps" between the fixed energy levels.[13] When this occurred, light was emitted or absorbed at a frequency proportional to the change in energy (hence the absorption and emission of light in discrete spectra).[13]

Discovery of nuclear particles

Discovery of nuclear particles

In 1918, Rutherford bombarded nitrogen gas with alpha particles and observed hydrogen nuclei being emitted from the gas. Rutherford concluded that the hydrogen nuclei emerged from the nuclei of the nitrogen atoms themselves (in effect, he split the atom).[16] He later found that the positive charge of any atom could always be equated to that of an integer number of hydrogen nuclei. This, coupled with the facts that hydrogen was the lightest element known and that the atomic mass of every other element was roughly equivalent to an integer number of hydrogen atoms, led him to conclude hydrogen nuclei were singular particles and a basic constituent of all atomic nuclei: the proton. Further experimentation by Rutherford found that the nuclear mass of most atoms exceeded that of the protons it possessed; he speculated that this surplus mass was composed of hitherto unknown neutrally charged particles, which were tentatively dubbed "neutrons".
In 1928, Walter Bothe observed that beryllium emitted a highly penetrating, electrically neutral radiation when bombarded with alpha particles. It was later discovered that this radiation could knock hydrogen atoms out of paraffin wax. Initially it was thought to be high-energy gamma radiation, since gamma radiation had a similar effect on electrons in metals, but James Chadwick found that the ionization effect was too strong for it to be due to electromagnetic radiation. In 1932, he exposed various elements, such as hydrogen and nitrogen, to the mysterious "beryllium radiation", and by measuring the energies of the recoiling charged particles, he deduced that the radiation was actually composed of electrically neutral particles with a mass similar to that of a proton.[17] For his discovery of the neutron, Chadwick received the Nobel Prize in 1935.


[edit] Quantum physical models of the atom

Quantum physical models of the atom

The five filled atomic orbitals of a neon atom separated and arranged in order of increasing energy from left to right, with the last three orbitals being equal in energy. Each orbital holds up to two electrons, which most probably exist in the zones represented by the colored bubbles. Each electron is equally present in both orbital zones, shown here by color only to highlight the different wave phase.
In 1924, Louis de Broglie proposed that all moving particles — particularly subatomic particles such as electrons — exhibit a degree of wave-like behavior. Erwin Schrödinger, fascinated by this idea, explored whether or not the movement of an electron in an atom could be better explained as a wave rather than as a particle. Schrödinger's equation, published in 1926,[18] describes an electron as a wavefunction instead of as a point particle. This approach elegantly predicted many of the spectral phenomena that Bohr's model failed to explain. Although this concept was mathematically convenient, it was difficult to visualize, and faced opposition.[19] One of its critics, Max Born, proposed instead that Schrödinger's wavefunction described not the electron but rather all its possible states, and thus could be used to calculate the probability of finding an electron at any given location around the nucleus.[20] This reconciled the two opposing theories of particle versus wave electrons and the idea of wave-particle duality was introduced. This theory stated that the electron may exhibit the properties of both a wave and a particle. For example, it can be refracted like a wave, and has mass like a particle.[21]