Introductory Chemistry Online/Measurements and Atomic Structure

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  Chapter 1: Measurements and Atomic Structure[edit]

Chemistry is the study of matter and the ways in which different forms of matter combine with each other. You study chemistry because it helps you to understand the world around you. Everything you touch or taste or smell is a chemical, and the interactions of these chemicals with each other define our universe. Chemistry forms the fundamental basis for biology and medicine. From the structure of proteins and nucleic acids, to the design, synthesis and manufacture of drugs, chemistry allows you an insight into how things work. Chapter One in this text will introduce you to matter, atoms and their structure. You will learn the basics of scientific measurement and you will gain an appreciation of the scale of chemistry; from the tiniest atom to the incredibly large numbers dealt with in the “mole concept” (Chapter 4). Chapter One lays the foundation on which we will build our understanding.

  1.1 Why Study Chemistry?[edit]

Chemistry is the branch of science dealing with the structure, composition, properties, and the reactive characteristics of matter. Matter is anything that has mass and occupies space. Thus, chemistry is the study of literally everything around us – the liquids that we drink, the gasses we breath, the composition of everything from the plastic case on your mp3 player to the earth beneath your feet. Moreover, chemistry is the study of the transformation of matter. Crude oil is transformed into more useful petroleum products such as gasoline and kerosene by the process of refining. Some of these products are further transformed into plastics. Crude metal ores are transformed into metals, that can then be fashioned into everything from foil to automobiles. Potential drugs are identified from natural sources, isolated and then prepared in the laboratory. Their structures are systematically modified to produce the pharmaceuticals that have led to vast advances in modern medicine. Chemistry is at the center of all of these processes and chemists are the people that study the nature of matter and learn to design, predict and control these chemical transformations. Within the branches of chemistry you will find several apparent subdivisions. Inorganic chemistry, historically, focused on minerals and metals found in the earth, while organic chemistry dealt with carbon-containing compounds that were first identified in living things. Biochemistry is an outgrowth of the application of organic chemistry to biology and relates to the chemical basis for living things. In the later chapters of this text we will explore organic and biochemistry in a bit more detail and you will notice examples of organic compounds scattered throughout the text. Today, the lines between the various fields have blurred significantly and a contemporary chemist is expected to have a broad background in all of these areas.Figure 1.1

In this chapter we will discuss some of the properties of matter, how chemists measure those properties and we will introduce some of the vocabulary that is used throughout chemistry and the other physical sciences.

Let’s begin with matter. Matter is defined as any substance that has mass. It’s important to distinguish here between weight and mass. Weight is the result of the pull of gravity on an object. On the Moon, an object will weigh less than the same object on Earth because the pull of gravity is less on the Moon. The mass of an object, however, is an inherent property of that object and does not change, regardless of location, gravitational pull, or whatever. It is a property that is solely dependent on the quantity of matter within the object.

Contemporary theories suggests that matter is composed of atoms. Atoms themselves, are constructed from neutrons, protons and electrons, along with an ever-increasing array of other subatomic particles. We will focus on the neutron, a particle having no charge, the proton, which carries a positive charge, and the electron, which has a negative charge. Atoms are incredibly small. To give you an idea of the size of an atom, a single copper penny contains approximately 28,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms (that’s 28 sextillion)Figure 1.2. Because atoms and subatomic particles are so small, their mass is not readily measured using pounds, ounces, grams or any other scale that we would use on larger objects. Instead, the mass of atoms and subatomic particles is measured using atomic mass units (abbreviated amu). The atomic mass unit is based on a scale that relates the mass of different types of atoms to each other (using the most common form of the element carbon as a standard). The amu scale gives us a convenient means to describe the masses of individual atoms and to do quantitative measurements concerning atoms and their reactions. Within an atom, the neutron and proton both have a mass of one amu; the electron has a much smaller mass (about 0.0005 amu).

Atomic theory places the neutron and the proton in the center of the atom in the nucleus. In an atom, the nucleus is very small, very dense, carries a positive charge (from the protons) and contains virtually all of the mass of the atom. Electrons are placed in a diffuse cloud surrounding the nucleus. The electron cloud carries a net negative charge (from the charge on the electrons) and in a neutral atom there are always as many electrons in this cloud as there are protons in the nucleus (the positive charges in the nucleus are balanced by the negative charges of the electrons, making the atom neutral).

An atom is characterized by the number of neutrons, protons and electrons that it possesses. Today, we recognize at least 116 different types of atoms, each type having a different number of protons in its nucleus. These different types of atoms are called elements. The neutral element hydrogen (the lightest element) will always have one proton in its nucleus and one electron in the cloud surrounding the nucleus. The element helium will always have two protons in its nucleus. It is the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom that defines the identity of an element. Elements can, however, have differing numbers of neutrons in their nucleus. For example, stable helium nuclei exists that contain one, or two neutrons (but they all have two protons). These different types of helium atoms have different masses (3 or 4 amu) and they are called isotopes. For any given isotope, the sum of the numbers of protons and neutrons in the nucleus is called the mass number. All elements exist as a collection of isotopes, and the mass of an element that we use in chemistry, the atomic mass, is the average of the masses of these isotopes. For helium, there is approximately one isotope of Helium-3 for every million isotopes of Helium-4, hence the average atomic mass is very close to 4 (4.002602).

As different elements were discovered and named, abbreviations of their names were developed to allow for a convenient chemical shorthand. The abbreviation for an element is called its chemical symbol. A chemical symbol consists of one or two letters, and the relationship between the symbol and the name of the element is generally apparent. Thus helium has the chemical symbol He, nitrogen is N, and lithium is Li. Sometimes the symbol is less apparent but is decipherable; magnesium is Mg, strontium is Sr, and manganese is Mn. Symbols for elements that have been known since ancient times, however, are often based on Latin or Greek names and appear somewhat obscure from their modern English names. For example, copper is Cu (from cuprum), silver is Ag (from argentum), gold is Au (from aurum), and iron is (Fe from ferrum). Throughout your study of chemistry, you will routinely use chemical symbols and it is important that you begin the process of learning the names and chemical symbols for the common elements. By the time you complete General Chemistry, you will find that you are adept at naming and identifying virtually all of the 116 known elements. Table 1.1 contains a starter list of common elements that you should begin learning now!


Table 1.1 Names and Chemical Symbols for Common Elements
Element Chemical Symbol Element Chemical Symbol
Hydrogen H Phosphorus P
Helium He Sulfur S
Lithium Li Chlorine Cl
Beryllium Be Argon Ar
Boron B Potassium K
Carbon C Calcium Ca
Nitrogen N Iron Fe
Oxygen O Copper Cu
Fluorine F Zinc Zn
Neon Ne Bromine Br
Sodium Na Silver Ag
Magnesium Mg Iodine I
Aluminum Al Gold Au
Silicon Si Lead Pb


The chemical symbol for an element is often combined with information regarding the number of protons and neutrons in a particular isotope of that atom to give the atomic symbol. To write an atomic symbol, you begin with the chemical symbol, then write the atomic number for the element (the number of protons in the nucleus) as a subscript, preceding the chemical symbol. Directly above this, as a superscript, now write the mass number for the isotope, that is, the total number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus. Thus, for helium, the atomic number is 2 and there are two neutrons in the nucleus for the most common isotope (see Figure 1.3), making the atomic symbol {}_{2}^{4}\text{He}. In the definition of the atomic mass unit, the “most common isotope of carbon”, {}_{6}^{12}\text{C}, is defined as having a mass of exactly 12 amu and the atomic masses of the remaining elements are based on their masses relative to this isotope. Chlorine (chemical symbol Cl) consists of two major isotopes, one with 18 neutrons (the most common, comprising 75.77% of natural chlorine atoms) and one with 20 neutrons (the remaining 24.23%). The atomic number of chlorine is 17 (it has 17 protons in its nucleus), therefore the chemical symbols for the two isotopes are {}_{17}^{35}\text{Cl} and {}_{17}^{37}\text{Cl}.Figure 1.5a

When data is available regarding the natural abundance of various isotopes of an element, it is simple to calculate the average atomic mass. In the example above, {}_{17}^{35}\text{Cl} was the most common isotope with an abundance of 75.77% and {}_{17}^{37}\text{Cl} had an abundance of the remaining 24.23%. To calculate the average mass, first convert the percentages into fractions; that is, simply divide them by 100. Now, chlorine-35 represents a fraction of natural chlorine of 0.7577 and has a mass of 35 (the mass number). Multiplying these, we get (0.7577 × 35) = 26.51. To this, we need to add the fraction representing chlorine-37, or (0.2423 × 37) = 8.965; adding, (26.51 + 8.965) = 35.48, which is the weighted average atomic mass for chlorine. Whenever we do mass calculations involving elements or compounds (combinations of elements), we always need to use average atomic masses.

  1.2 Organization of the Elements: The Periodic Table[edit]

The number of protons in the nucleus of an element is called the atomic number of that element. Chemists typically place elements in order of increasing atomic numbers in a special arrangement that is called the periodic table (Figure 1.4).

As you can see from Figure 1.4, the periodic table is not simply a grid of elements arranged numerically. In the periodic table, the elements are arranged in horizontal rows called periods (numbered in blue) and vertically into columns called groups. These groups are numbered by two, somewhat conflicting, schemes. In the simplest presentation, favored by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the groups are simply numbered 1-18. The convention in much of the world, however, is to number the first two groups 1A and 2A, the last six groups 3A-8A; the middle ten groups are then numbered 1B-8B (but not in that order!). While the IUPAC numbering appears much simpler, in this text we will use the current USA nomenclature (1A-8A). The reason for this choice will become more apparent in Chapter 3 when we discuss “valence” and electron configuration in more detail. The actual layout of the periodic table is based on the grouping of the elements according to chemical properties. For example, elements in each Group of the periodic table (each vertical column) will share many of the same chemical properties. As we discuss the properties of elements and the ways they combine with other elements, the reasons for this particular arrangement of the periodic table will become more obvious.

As you can see from Figure 1.5, each element in the periodic table is represented by a box containing the chemical symbol, the atomic number (the number of protons in the nucleus) and the atomic mass of the element. Remember that the atomic mass is the weighted average of the masses of all of the natural isotopes of the particular element.

Periodic tables are often colored, or shaded, to distinguish groups of elements that have similar properties or chemical reactivity. The broadest classification is into metals, metalloids (or semi-metals) and nonmetals. The elements in Groups 1A – 8A are called the representative elements and the elements in Groups 3 - 15 are called the transition metals. In Figure 1.6, the all of the metallic elements are shown in gray. Metals are solids (except for mercury), can conduct electricity and are usually malleable (can be rolled into sheets) and are ductile (can be drawn into wires). Metals are usually separated into the main group metals (the elements colored gray in Groups 1A - 5A) and the transition metals (in Groups 3 – 15). Nonmetals (green in the Figure) do not conduct electricity (with the exception of carbon in the form of graphite) and have a variety of physical states (some are solids, some liquids and some gasses). Two important subclasses of nonmetals are the halogens (Group 7A) and the inert gasses (or noble gasses; Group 8A). At the border between metals and nonmetals lie the elements boron, silicon, germanium, astatine, antimony and tellurium. These elements share physical properties of metals and nonmetals and are called metalloids, or semi-metals. The common semiconductors silicon and germanium are in this group and it is their unique electrical properties that make transistors and other solid-state devices possible. Later in this book we will see that the position of elements in the periodic table also correlates with their chemical reactivity.

  1.3 Scientific Notation[edit]

In Section 1.1, we stated that a single copper penny contains approximately 28,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms. This is a huge number. If we were to measure the diameter of an atom of hydrogen, it would be about 0.00000000000026 inches across. This is an incredibly small number. Chemists routinely use very large and very small numbers in calculations. In order to allow us to use this range of numbers efficiently, chemists will generally express numbers using exponential, or scientific notation. In scientific notation, a number n is shown as the product of that number and 10, raised to some exponent x; that is, (n × 10x). The number 102 is equal to 100. If we multiply 2 × 102, that is equivalent to multiplying 2 × 100, or 200. Thus 200 can be written in scientific notation as 2 × 102. When we convert a number to scientific notation, we begin by writing a the first (non-zero) digit in the number. If the number contains more than one digit, we write a decimal point, followed by all of the remaining digits. Next we inspect the number to see what power of 10 this decimal must be multiplied by to give the original number. Operationally, what you are doing is moving decimal places. Take the number of atoms in a penny, 28,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. We would begin by writing 2.8. To get the power of 10 that we need, we begin with the last digit in the number and count the number of places that we must move to the left to reach our new decimal point. In this example, we must move 22 places to the left. The number is therefore the product of 2.8 and 1022, and the number is written in scientific notation as 2.8 × 1022.

Let’s look at a very small number; for example, 0.00000000000026 inches, the diameter of a hydrogen atom. We want to place our decimal point between the two and the six. To do this, we have to move the decimal point in our number to the right thirteen places. When you are converting a number to scientific notation and you move the decimal point to the right, the power of 10 must have a negative exponent. Thus our number would be written 2.6 × 1013 inches. A series of numbers in decimal format and in scientific notation are shown in Table 1.2. Figure 1.7 shows a remarkable picture from an atomic force microscope in which individual atoms of sodium and chlorine are visualized on a sodium chloride crystal. In this image, the size of the individual atoms is about 2.6 x 10-13 meters.

Table 1.2 Examples of Numbers in Decimal Format and in Scientific Notation
Decimal Format Scientific Notation
274 2.74 × 102
0.0035 3.5 × 10–3
60221415 6.0221415 × 107
0.125 1.25 × 10–1
402.5 4.025 × 102
0.0002001 2.001 × 10–4
10,000 1 × 104



Exercise 1.1 Conversions between Decimal Format and Scientific Notation

Convert the following numbers into scientific notation:
a. 93,000,000
b. 708,010
c. 0.000248
d. 800.0
Convert the following numbers from scientific notation into decimal format:
  a.  6.02 × 104
b. 6.00 × 10-4
c. 4.68 × 10-2
d. 9.3 × 107

   1.4 SI and Metric Units[edit]

Within the sciences, we use the system of weights and measures that are defined by the International System of Units which are generally referred to as SI Units. At the heart of the SI system is a short list of base units defined in an absolute way without referring to any other units. The base units that we will use in this text, and later in General Chemistry include the meter (m) for distance, the kilogram (kg) for mass and the second (s) for time. The volume of a substance is a derived unit based on the meter, and a cubic meter (m3) is defined as the volume of a cube that is exactly 1 meter on all edges.

Because most laboratory work that takes place in chemistry is on a relatively small scale, the mass of a kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) is too large to be convenient and the gram is generally utilized, where a gram (g) is defined as 1/1000 kilograms. Likewise, a volume of one cubic meter is too large to be practical in the laboratory and it is common to use the cubic centimeter to describe volume. A cubic centimeter is a cube that is 1/100 meter on each edge, as shown in Figure 1.9; a teaspoon holds approximately 5 cubic centimeters. For liquids and gasses, chemists will usually describe volume using the liter, where a liter (L) is defined as 1000 cubic centimeters.

SI base units are typically represented using the abbreviation for the unit itself, preceded by a metric prefix, where the metric prefix represents the power of 10 that the base unit is multiplied by. The set of common metric prefixes are shown in Table 1.3.


Table 1.3 Common Metric Prefixes
Factor Name Symbol
10-12 pico p
10-9 nano n
10-6 micro µ
10-3 milli m
10-2 centi c
10-1 deci d
1 none
103 kilo k
106 mega M
109 giga G


Using this Table as a reference, we see the metric symbol “c” represents the factor 10-2; thus writing “cm” is equivalent to writing (10–2 × m). Likewise, we could describe 1/1000 of a meter as mm, where the metric symbol “m” represents the factor 10-3. The set of metric prefixes and their symbols that are shown in Table 1.3 are widely used in chemistry and it is important that you memorize them and become adept at relating the prefix (and its’ symbol) to the corresponding factor of 10.

  1.5 Unit Conversion within the Metric System[edit]

Because chemists often deal with measurements that are both very small (as in the size of an atom) and very large (as in numbers of atoms), it is often necessary to convert between units of metric measurement. For example, a mass measured in grams may be more convenient to work with if it was expressed in mg (10–3 × g). Converting between metric units is an exercise in unit analysis (also called dimensional analysis). Unit analysis is a form of proportional reasoning where a given measurement can be multiplied by a known proportion or ratio to give a result having a different unit, or dimension. For example, if you had a sample of a substance with a mass of 0.0034 grams and you wished to express that mass in mg you could use the following unit analysis:

The given quantity in this example is the mass of 0.0034 grams. The quantity that you want to find is the mass in mg, and the known proportion or ratio is given by the definition of the metric prefix, that is one mg is equal to 10-3 grams. Expressing this as a proportion or ratio, you could say there is one mg per 10-3 grams, or:

Looking at this expression, the numerator, 1 mg, is equivalent to saying 1 × 10–3 g, which is identical to the value in the denominator. This ratio, therefore has a numeric value of one (anything divided by itself is one, by definition). Algebraically, we know that we are allowed to multiply any number by one and that number will be unchanged. If, however, the number has units, and we multiply it by a ratio containing units, the units in the number will multiply and divide by the units of the ratio, giving the original number (remember you are multiplying by one) but with different units. In the present case, if we multiply the given by the known ratio, the unit “g” will cancel, leaving “mg” as the only remaining unit. The original number in grams has therefore been converted to milligrams, the units that you wanted to find.

The method that we used to solve this problem can be generalized as: given × known ratio = find. The given is a numerical quantity (with its units), the known ratio is based on the metric prefixes and is set up so that the units in the denominator of the ratio match the units of given and the units in the numerator match those in find. When these are multiplied, the number from given will now have the units of find. In the ratio used in the example, “g” (the units of given) appear in the denominator and “mg” (the units of find) appear in the numerator.

As an example of a case where the units of the known ratio must be inverted, if you wanted to convert 1.3 × 107 µg into grams, the given would be 1.3 × 107 µg, the find would be grams and the known ratio would be based on the definition of µg as one µg per 10-6 grams. This ratio must be expressed in the solution with µg (the units of given) in the denominator and g (the units of find) in the numerator. The problem is set up as:


Note that instead of “one µg per 10-6 grams”, we must invert the known ratio and state it as either “10-6 grams per 1 µg” so that the units of given (µg) will cancel. We can do this inversion because the ratio still has a numeric value of one. Simple ratios like these can also be used to convert English measurements in to their metric equivalents. The ratio relating inches to meters is \left( {}^{\text{0}\text{.0254 m}}\!\!\diagup\!\!{}_{\text{1 inch}}\; \right). Thus we could express the distance between atoms in Figure 1.8 as:



Example 1.1 Simple Metric Unit Conversions

Convert the following metric measurements into the indicated units:

  • a. 9.3 × 10-4 g into ng
  • b. 278 g into mg

Example 1.1 Solutions


Exercise 1.2 Simple Metric Unit Conversions Convert the following metric measurements into the indicated units:

  • a. 2,057 grams - as kg
  • b. 1.25 × 10-7 meters - as µm
  • c. 6.58 × 104 meters - as km
  • d. 2.78 × 10-1 grams - as mg

In the examples we have done thus far, we have been able to write a known ratio based on the definition of the appropriate metric prefix. But what if we wanted to take a number that was expressed in milligrams and convert it to a number with the units of nanograms? In a case like this, we need to use two known ratios in sequence; the first with the units of given (mg) in the denominator and the second with the units of find (ng) in the numerator. For example, if we were given 0.00602 mg and asked to find ng, we could set up a ratio based on grams per mg. If we solved the problem at this point, we would have a result with the units of grams. To get a final answer in terms of ng, we would need to multiply this intermediate result (the new given) by a ratio based on nanograms per gram. The complete set-up is shown below:

In the first two terms, the units of “mg” cancel and in the second two terms, “g” cancels leaving only “ng”, the units of find. One of the reassuring pleasures of doing these types of problems is that, if you set up your problem and the units cancel, leaving only the units of find, you know you have set up the problem correctly! All you have to do is to do the sequential calculations and you know your answer is correct!


Exercise 1.3 Sequential Metric Unit Conversions Convert the following metric measurements into the indicated units:

  • a. 2,057 mg - into kg
  • b. 1.25 × 10-7 km - into µm
  • c. 9.3 × 10-4 pg - into ng
  • d. 6.5 × 104 mm - into km

  1.6 Significant Figures[edit]

Experimental work in scientific laboratories will generally involve measurement. Whenever we make a measurement, we always strive to make our value as accurate as possible. For example, the ruler in Figure 1.9 can be used to measure the distance between the two red arrows.

The distance is more than 50 mm, the last numbered digit shown before the second arrow. If we look very carefully, we see that the second arrow is about half-way between the fourth and fifth division following the 50 mm mark. The measurement is therefore greater than 54 mm and less than 55 mm and is about 54.5 mm. The last digit in our measurement is estimated, but the first two digits are exact. In any measurement, like this, the last digit that you report is always an estimated digit. If we were to say that the measurement was 54 mm, that would be incorrect, because we know it’s larger. If we were to say the measurement was 54.5567 mm, that would be nonsense because our scale does not show that degree of accuracy. In a measurement in science, the estimated digit is called the least significant digit, and the total number of exact digits plus the estimated digit is called the number of significant figures in the measurement. Thus the measurement in the figure, 54.5, has three significant figures (3 SF). By adhering to this rule, we can look at any measured value and immediately know the accuracy of the measurement that was done. In order to properly interpret the number of significant figures in a measurement, we have to know how to interpret measurements containing zeros. For example, an object is found to have a mass of 602 mg. The last digit (the 2) is estimated and the first two digits are exact. The measurement therefore is accurate to three significant figures. We could also express this measurement in grams using the metric conversion ratio \left( {}^{\text{1 g}}\!\!\diagup\!\!{}_{\text{10}^{\text{3}}\text{ mg}}\; \right), making the measurement 0.00602 g. We now have three additional digits in our number (called leading zeros), but is our number any more accurate? No; in a measurement, leading zeros (zeros that appear before the number) are never significant.

Let’s consider another measurement; we are told that a distance is 1700 m. The first thing to notice is that this number does not have a decimal point. What this tells us is that the estimated digit in this number is the 7, and that this number only has two significant figures. The last two zeros in this measurement are called trailing zeros; in numbers without a decimal point, trailing zeros are never significant. If, however, the distance was reported as 1700.00 m, the presence of the decimal point would imply that the last zero was the estimated digit (zeros can be estimated too) and this number would have six significant figures. Stated as a rule, in a number containing a decimal point, trailing zeros are always significant. These simple rules for interpreting zeros in measurements are collected in Table 1.4.

Applying these rules to some examples:

  • 117.880 m contains six significant figures; the number has a decimal point, so the trailing zero is significant.
  • 0.002240 g contains four significant figures; the number has a decimal point so the trailing zero is significant, but the leading zeros are not.
  • 1,000,100 contains five significant figures; the number does not have a decimal point, so the trailing zeros are not significant. The zeros between the first and fifth digits, however, are significant.
  • 6.022 × 1023 contains four significant figures. In scientific notation, all of the significant figures in a measurement are shown before the exponent. (Remember this when you are converting measurements into scientific notation.)

Exercise 1.4 Significant Figures in Measurements Determine the number of significant figures in each of the following numbers:

  • a. 2,057,000
  • b. 1.250600
  • c. 9.300 × 10-4
  • d. 6.05 × 104

  1.7 Atomic Theory and Electron Configuration[edit]

As we learned in Section 1.1, modern atomic theory places protons and neutrons in the nucleus of an atom and electrons are placed in a diffuse cloud surrounding this nucleus. As chemists and physicists began examining the structure of atoms, however, it became apparent that all of the electrons in atoms were not equivalent. The electrons were not randomly placed in one massive “cloud”, rather they seemed to be arranged in distinct energy levels and energy was required to move electrons from a lower to a higher energy level. A mathematical model of atomic structure was developed in the early nineteenth century that defined these energy levels as quantum levels, and today this description is generally referred to as quantum mechanics.

According to the quantum model of the atom, electron for the known elements can reside in seven different quantum levels, denoted by the principal quantum number n, where n has a value of one to seven. As the quantum number increases, the average energy of the electrons having that quantum number also increases. Each of the seven rows in the periodic table shown in Figure 1.5 corresponds to a different quantum number. The first row (n = 1) can only accommodate two electrons. Thus an element in the first row of the periodic table can have no more than two electrons (hydrogen has one, and helium has two). The second row (n = 2) can accommodate eight electrons and an element in the second row of the periodic table will have two electrons in the first level (it is full) and up to eight electrons in the second level.

Quantum theory also tells us that the electrons in a given energy level are not all equivalent. Within an energy level electrons reside within sublevels (or subshells). The sublevels for any given level are identified by the letters, s, p, d and f and the total number of sublevels is also given by the quantum number, n. The s sublevel can accommodate two electrons, the p holds six, the d holds 10 and the f can hold 14. The elements in the first row in the periodic table (n = 1) have electrons only in the 1s sublevel (n = 1, therefore there can only be one sublevel). The single electron in hydrogen would be identified as 1s1 and the two electrons in helium would be identified as 1s2. Fluorine, in the second row of the periodic table (n = 2), has an atomic number of nine and therefore has nine electrons. The electrons in fluorine are arranged, two in the first level (1s2), two in the 2s suborbital (2s2) and five 2p suborbital (2p5). If we were to write the electron configuration for fluorine, we would write it as 1s2 2s2 2p5. Each of the sublevels in an atom is also associated with an orbital, where an orbital is simply a region of space where the electron is likely to be found. Figure 1.10 shows the calculated shapes for the s, p and d orbitals; the shapes of the seven f orbitals are even more complex.

  1.8 Filling Orbitals with Electrons[edit]

As stated above, an s sublevel can accommodate two electrons, the p accommodates six, there can be 10 in the d sublevel and 14 in the f. Although there are two electrons in the s sublevel, these electrons are not identical; they differ in the quantum property known as spin. As a simple device to illustrate this, the electrons within a suborbital are often represented as arrows pointing up or down, graphically representing opposite spin axes (↑ and ↓). Electrons are added to sublevels according to Hund’s rules which state that every orbital in a subshell is singly occupied with one electron before any one orbital is doubly occupied, and all electrons in singly occupied orbitals have the same spin. When a subshell is doubly occupied, the electrons have opposite spins. For example, carbon has a filled 1s sublevel, a filled 2s sublevel and two electrons in the 2p sublevel (2p2). We could therefore show the electrons of carbon as:

The electron configuration for fluorine is 1s2 2s2 2p5, so we could show the electrons in fluorine as:

This sequence continues nicely until the third period; it turns out the 3d orbitals are slightly higher in energy than the 4s orbital, therefore the 4s fills with two electrons, and then the next 10 electrons are placed in the 3d orbital. This is a general trend in the periodic table, and the order of filling can be easily predicted by the scheme shown in Figure 1.11. In this scheme, you simply follow the arrows on the diagonal to determine the next orbital to fill.

One of the shortcuts that is often used when writing electron configuration is to show “core” electrons simply as the inert gas from the preceding period. For example, fluorine is in the second period (n = 2). That means that the orbitals associated with the first period are already filled, just like they are in the inert gas, helium (He). Therefore, instead of writing the configuration for fluorine as we did above, we can replace the 1s2 with the “helium core”, or:

Calcium is in the fourth period and in Group 2A. That means that the first three quantum levels are filled (n = 1, 2 and 3) just like they are in argon. Therefore, the electron configuration for calcium can be written as:

Note that in this example, the 3d orbitals are shown as next in line to receive electrons. In Figure 1.12, aster the 4s sublevel fills, 3d is next, followed by 4p, etc.


Exercise 1.5 Electron Configurations

  • a. Write the complete electron configurations for the elements beryllium and carbon.
  • b. Identify the elements corresponding to the following electron configurations:

1s2 2s1 and 1s2 2s2 2p6.

   Study Points[edit]

  • Matter is defined as any substance that has mass. Matter is composed of atoms. that are constructed primarily from neutrons, protons and electrons. Neutrons have no charge, protons, carry a positive charge, and electrons, have a negative charge.
  • The mass of atoms and subatomic particles is measured using atomic mass units (abbreviated amu); protons and neutrons have a mass of one amu, and the mass of an electron is negligible.
  • The neutron and the proton are in the center of the atom in the nucleus. Virtually all of the mass of the atom resides in the nucleus. Electrons are placed in a diffuse cloud surrounding the nucleus.
  • The electron cloud carries a net negative charge and in a neutral atom there are always as many electrons in this cloud as there are protons in the nucleus.
  • The identity of an atom is defined by the number of protons in its nucleus; each unique type of atom is called an element. Elements with the same number of protons, but differing numbers of neutrons in their nucleus are called isotopes. The atomic mass of an element is the weighted average of the masses each of these isotopes.
  • Each element is referred to using its chemical symbol, which is an abbreviation of its name (many symbols are based on Latin or Greek names).
  • The atomic symbol for an element consists of the chemical symbol with the atomic number for the element as a subscript, preceding the chemical symbol, and directly above this, a superscript showing the mass number for the particular isotope of the element.
  • The average atomic mass for an element can be calculated as the sum of the fraction of each isotope within the natural abundance, multiplied by the mass number of that isotope; or, average atomic mass = f1M1 + f2M2 + f3M3
  • The number of protons in the nucleus of an element is called the atomic number of that element. Elements are typically arranged in order of increasing atomic numbers in the periodic table. In the periodic table, horizontal rows are called periods and vertical columns are called groups.
  • Typically in the sciences, very large or very small numbers are shown using scientific notation (exponential notation) where a number n is shown as the product of that number and 10, raised to some exponent x; that is, (n × 10x).
  • In the SI (or metric) system, the unit for distance is the meter (m), kilogram (kg) is used for mass and second (s) for time. The volume of a substance is a derived unit based on the meter, and a cubic meter (m3) is defined as the volume of a cube that is exactly 1 meter on all edges. Typically, in the laboratory, mass is expressed in grams (g) (1/1000 of a kilogram) and the cubic centimeter (cc) is to describe volume. A cubic centimeter is a cube that is 1/100 meter on each edge. For liquids and gasses, volume is usually described using the liter, where a liter (L) is defined as 1000 cubic centimeters.
  • SI base units are typically represented using the abbreviation for the unit itself, preceded by a metric prefix, where the metric prefix represents the power of 10 that the base unit is multiplied by.
  • When converting between metric units, a simple algorithm involves taking a given measurement and multiplying it by a known proportion or ratio to give a result having the metric unit, or dimension, that you were trying to find.
  • In a measurement in science, the last digit that is reported is estimated, and this digit is called the least significant digit; this, along with the total number of exact digits plus the estimated digit is called the number of significant figures in the measurement. When identifying the number of significant figures in a measurement, all leading zeros are excluded. Zeros that are surrounded by non-zero digits are included, and, for numbers with a decimal point, trailing zeros are also included. If a number does not have a decimal point, trailing zeros are not included. A number written in scientific notation includes all significant digits in n; (n × 10x).
  • According to the quantum model of the atom, electrons reside in seven different quantum levels, denoted by the principal quantum number n, where n has a value of one to seven, corresponding to the seven rows in the periodic table. The first row (n = 1) can accommodate two electrons; the second row (n = 2) can accommodate eight electrons; the third row (n = 3), eighteen, up to a maximum of 2n2 for the known elements.
  • Quantum theory also tells us that the electrons in a given energy level reside within sublevels (or subshells). The sublevels for any given level are identified by the letters, s, p, d and f and the quantum number for the level, written as 1s2 2s2 2p5, etc. Each of the sublevels is also associated with an orbital, where an orbital is simply a region of space where the electron is likely to be found.
  • When adding electrons to sublevels, Hund’s rules state that every orbital in a subshell is singly occupied with one electron before any one orbital is doubly occupied, and all electrons in singly occupied orbitals have the same spin (shown using “up and down” arrows). Electrons are added in order of increasing energy of the sublevel, not necessarily in numeric order.