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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Derive the predicted ground-state electron configurations of atoms
  • Identify and explain exceptions to predicted electron configurations for atoms and ions
  • Relate electron configurations to element classifications in the periodic table

Having introduced the basics of atomic structure and quantum mechanics, we can use our understanding of quantum numbers to determine how atomic orbitals relate to one another. This allows us to determine which orbitals are occupied by electrons in each atom. The specific arrangement of electrons in orbitals of an atom determines many of the chemical properties of that atom.

Orbital energies and atomic structure

The energy of atomic orbitals increases as the principal quantum number, n , increases. In any atom with two or more electrons, the repulsion between the electrons makes energies of subshells with different values of l differ so that the energy of the orbitals increases within a shell in the order s < p < d < f. [link] depicts how these two trends in increasing energy relate. The 1 s orbital at the bottom of the diagram is the orbital with electrons of lowest energy. The energy increases as we move up to the 2 s and then 2 p , 3 s , and 3 p orbitals, showing that the increasing n value has more influence on energy than the increasing l value for small atoms. However, this pattern does not hold for larger atoms. The 3 d orbital is higher in energy than the 4 s orbital. Such overlaps continue to occur frequently as we move up the chart.

A table entitled, “Subshell electron capacity,” is shown. Along the left side of the table, an upward pointing arrow labeled, “E,” is drawn. The table includes three columns. The first column is narrow and is labeled, “2.” The second is slightly wider and is labeled, “6.” The third is slightly wider yet and is labeled, “10.” The fourth is the widest and is labeled, “14.” The first column begins at the very bottom with a horizontal line segment labeled “1 s.” Evenly spaced line segments continue up to 7 s near the top of the column. In the second column, a horizontal dashed line segment labeled, “2 p,” appears at a level between the 2 s and 3 s levels. Similarly 3 p appears at a level between 3 s and 4 s, 4 p appears just below 5 s, 5 p appears just below 6 s, and 6 p appears just below 7 s. In the third column, a dashed line labeled, “3 d,” appears just below the level of 4 p. Similarly, 4 d appears just below 5 p and 5 d appears just below 6 p. Six d however appears above the levels of both 6 p and 7 s. The far right column entries begin with a dashed line labeled, “4 f,” positioned at a level just below 5 d. Similarly, a second dashed line segment appears just below the level of 6 d, which is labeled, “5 f.”
Generalized energy-level diagram for atomic orbitals in an atom with two or more electrons (not to scale).

Electrons in successive atoms on the periodic table tend to fill low-energy orbitals first. Thus, many students find it confusing that, for example, the 5 p orbitals fill immediately after the 4 d , and immediately before the 6 s . The filling order is based on observed experimental results, and has been confirmed by theoretical calculations. As the principal quantum number, n , increases, the size of the orbital increases and the electrons spend more time farther from the nucleus. Thus, the attraction to the nucleus is weaker and the energy associated with the orbital is higher (less stabilized). But this is not the only effect we have to take into account. Within each shell, as the value of l increases, the electrons are less penetrating (meaning there is less electron density found close to the nucleus), in the order s > p > d > f . Electrons that are closer to the nucleus slightly repel electrons that are farther out, offsetting the more dominant electron–nucleus attractions slightly (recall that all electrons have −1 charges, but nuclei have + Z charges). This phenomenon is called shielding and will be discussed in more detail in the next section. Electrons in orbitals that experience more shielding are less stabilized and thus higher in energy. For small orbitals (1 s through 3 p ), the increase in energy due to n is more significant than the increase due to l ; however, for larger orbitals the two trends are comparable and cannot be simply predicted. We will discuss methods for remembering the observed order.

Questions & Answers

what is a balanced equation 4 trioxonitrate (V)acid and sodium hydroxide?
Marcel Reply
proved ur Worth: If A is a of trioxonitrate(V)acid,HNO3' of unknown concentration .B is a standard solution of sodium hydroxide containing 4.00g per dm cube of solution.25cm cube portions solution B required an average of 24.00cm cube of solution A for neutralization,using 2 drops of methyl orange.
Marcel
calculate the concentration of solution B in moles per dm cube
Marcel
calculate the concentration of solution A and B in moles per DM cube
Marcel
finally calculate the concentration in g/dm cube of HNO3 in solution A (H=1,N=14,O=16,Na=23)
Marcel
calculate the standard enthalpy of formation for propane(C3H8) from the following data; 1), C3H8+5O2->3CO2+4H2O; -222.0kJ/mol 2), C+O2->CO2;-395.5kJ/mol 3),H2+O->H2O; 285.8kJ/mol
Josephine
let eventually of formation of propane = X X + (-222)=3×(-395.5)+4×(-286) rearrange to find X
Paul
wat is electrolysis?
Mgbachi Reply
it is the chemical decomposition of a substance when electric current is passed through it either in molten form or aqueous solution
Nuru
list the side effect of chemical industries
Chelsea Reply
how do you ionise an atom
Rabeka Reply
many ways ,but one of them is when the atom becomes heated to a certain temperature the surface electron becomes too energetic and leaves the atom because the attraction between the nucleus and the electron becomes overpowered by the energetic eletron
sunday
also hitting of two atoms can cause transfer of surface electrons
sunday
and when this transfers occur the atom becomes ionised
sunday
who is doing Cape chemistry tomorrow?
caramel Reply
What is hybridization
edmondnti Reply
the mix between different breeds of species in one
Jared
it is the blending of orbitals.
stanley
the mixing of orbital
caramel
are covalent bonds influenced by factors such as temperature and pressure?
patrick Reply
what is catalyst used for mirror test
Sanjay Reply
when an atom looses electron, what does it become?
Abdullahi Reply
it's oxidized and called an ion
Anora
thanks
Abdullahi
Now, I get it
Abdullahi
cation
Anora
can you give an example please, if you don't mind
Abdullahi
a positive ion,become positively charged/a cation.
Janis
sodium plus one is simple cation is exmpl
ajmal
Taking Sodium as example..... it carries a positive charge which means it is positively charged.....when it gains an electron, it is reduced cuz an electron is negatively charged.....also when an atom looses an electron, it becomes positively charged and when it gains, it becomes negatively charged.
Nuru
typically, ionization is the process where an atom looses or gains electron(s) to form ion(s) either a positively or negatively
Nuru
what is copper
Bryan Reply
just an element
Power
Cu
daniel
Why is water a single covalent bond?
Mohamed Reply
nitrogen is a gas whereas phosphorus is solid .Explain.
Jacky Reply
can you explain what you are needing it now better than maybe I'm just not interpreting it what you're needing to know
Alex
cool nitrogen down to around negative 270 °F and it will be solid. now they are both solid
daniel
they are different elements and dats how they are pal.....check the periodic table
Nuru
Nitrogen is a diatomic molecule with relatively weak van de waals forces between the molecules. These forces are overcome when the solid melts or liquid evaporates. Phosphorus forms larger molecules consisting of four phosphorus atoms in a tetradedral shape. The intermolecular forces are stronger
Paul
whats a base
Daksalma Reply
A base is a substance which will neutralize an acid to yield salt and water only
Zainab
base is a substance that produces OH(aq) ions in aqueous solution. Strong soluable bases are in water and are completely dislocated. Therefore weak base ionize slightly...
Roy
a base is a substance that neutralise and acid to form salt and water
Daksalma
write electrolysis of bright solution using either carbon or platinum and write the reaction at the anode or at the cathode
Abdullah Reply
what is the H3O of a solution with the pH of 2.5
Sgt.Elliott_98 Reply
pH<7, therefore there are only H3O+HX3OX+particles in the solution. [H3O+]=10−pH=10−6.99=1.02⋅10−7[HX3OX+]=10−pH=10−6.99=1.02⋅10−7 When the pH is smaller than 6 or greater than 8, one will not notice the difference, but here it is logarithmically speaking  and I'll give you another one if this is ki
Alex
if I'm answering and interpreting what you're asking correctly
Alex
When the pH is smaller than 6 or greater than 8, one will not notice the difference, but here it is logarithmically speaking 
Alex
sorry I don't know why that sent again
Alex
We have [H3O+]=10−pH=10−6.99=1.02⋅10−7[HX3OX+]=10−pH=10−6.99=1.02⋅10−7 and [OH−]=10−pOH=10−7.01=9.77⋅10−8[OHX−]=10−pOH=10−7.01=9.77⋅10−8.  Because of H3O++OH−⟶2H2OHX3OX++OHX−⟶2HX2O we are left with [H3O+]=1.02⋅10−7−9.77⋅10−8=4.6⋅10−9
Alex
Practice Key Terms 7

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Source:  OpenStax, Chemistry. OpenStax CNX. May 20, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11760/1.9
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