Chapter 2. Atomic Structure and Bonding

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2.2 Fundamental Concepts

Atoms are composed of electrons, protons, and neutrons. Electron and protons are negative and positive charges of the same magnitude, 1.6 10-19 Coulombs.

The mass of the electron is negligible with respect to those of the proton and the neutron, which form the nucleus of the atom. The unit of mass is an atomic mass unit (amu) = 1.66 10-27 kg, and equals 1/12 the mass of a carbon atom. The Carbon nucleus has Z=6, and A=6, where Z is the number of protons, and A the number of neutrons. Neutrons and protons have very similar masses, roughly equal to 1 amu. A neutral atom has the same number of electrons and protons, Z.

A mole is the amount of matter that has a mass in grams equal to the atomic mass in amu of the atoms. Thus, a mole of carbon has a mass of 12 grams. The number of atoms in a mole is called the Avogadro number, Nav = 6.023 1023. Note that Nav = 1 gram/1 amu.

Calculating n, the number of atoms per cm3 in a piece of material of density d (g/cm3).

n = Nav d / M

where M is the atomic mass in amu (grams per mol). Thus, for graphite (carbon) with a density d = 1.8 g/cm3, M =12, we get 6 1023 atoms/mol 1.8 g/cm3 / 12 g/mol) = 9 1022 C/cm3.

For a molecular solid like ice, one uses the molecular mass, M(H2O) = 18. With a density of 1 g/cm3, one obtains n = 3.3 1022 H2O/cm3. Note that since the water molecule contains 3 atoms, this is equivalent to 9.9 1022 atoms/cm3.

Most solids have atomic densities around 6 1022 atoms/cm3. The cube root of that number gives the number of atoms per centimeter, about 39 million. The mean distance between atoms is the inverse of that, or 0.25 nm. This is an important number that gives the scale of atomic structures in solids.

2.3 Electrons in Atoms

The forces in the atom are repulsions between electrons and attraction between electrons and protons. The neutrons play no significant role. Thus, Z is what characterizes the atom.

The electrons form a cloud around the neutron, of radius of 0.05 – 2 nanometers. Electrons do not move in circular orbits, as in popular drawings, but in 'fuzzy' orbits. We cannot tell how it moves, but only say what is the probability of finding it at some distance from the nucleus. According to quantum mechanics, only certain orbits are allowed (thus, the idea of a mini planetary system is not correct). The orbits are identified by a principal quantum number n, which can be related to the size, n = 0 is the smallest; n = 1, 2 .. are larger. (They are "quantized" or discrete, being specified by integers). The angular momentum l is quantized, and so is the projection in a specific direction m. The structure of the atom is determined by the Pauli exclusion principle, only two electrons can be placed in an orbit with a given n, l, m – one for each spin. Table 2.1 in the textbook gives the number of electrons in each shell (given by n) and subshells (given by l).

 2.4 The Periodic Table

Elements are categorized by placing them in the periodic table. Elements in a column share similar properties. The noble gases have closed shells, and so they do not gain or lose electrons near another atom. Alkalis can easily lose an electron and become a closed shell; halogens can easily gain one to form a negative ion, again with a closed shell. The propensity to form closed shells occurs in molecules, when they share electrons to close a molecular shell. Examples are H2, N2, and NaCl.

The ability to gain or lose electrons is termed electronegativity or electropositivity, an important factor in ionic bonds.

2.5 Bonding Forces and Energies

The Coulomb forces are simple: attractive between electrons and nuclei, repulsive between electrons and between nuclei. The force between atoms is given by a sum of all the individual forces, and the fact that the electrons are located outside the atom and the nucleus in the center.

When two atoms come very close, the force between them is always repulsive, because the electrons stay outside and the nuclei repel each other. Unless both atoms are ions of the same charge (e.g., both negative) the forces between atoms is always attractive at large internuclear distances r. Since the force is repulsive at small r, and attractive at small r, there is a distance at which the force is zero. This is the equilibrium distance at which the atoms prefer to stay.

The interaction energy is the potential energy between the atoms. It is negative if the atoms are bound and positive if they can move away from each other. The interaction energy is the integral of the force over the separation distance, so these two quantities are directly related. The interaction energy is a minimum at the equilibrium position. This value of the energy is called the bond energy, and is the energy needed to separate completely to infinity (the work that needs to be done to overcome the attractive force.) The strongest the bond energy, the hardest is to move the atoms, for instance the hardest it is to melt the solid, or to evaporate its atoms.

2.6 Primary Interatomic Bonds

Ionic Bonding

This is the bond when one of the atoms is negative (has an extra electron) and another is positive (has lost an electron). Then there is a strong, direct Coulomb attraction. An example is NaCl. In the molecule, there are more electrons around Cl, forming Cl- and less around Na, forming Na+. Ionic bonds are the strongest bonds. In real solids, ionic bonding is usually combined with covalent bonding. In this case, the fractional ionic bonding is defined as %ionic = 100 [1 – exp(-0.25 (XA – XB)2], where XA and XB are the electronegativities of the two atoms, A and B, forming the molecule.

Covalent Bonding

In covalent bonding, electrons are shared between the molecules, to saturate the valency. The simplest example is the H2 molecule, where the electrons spend more time in between the nuclei than outside, thus producing bonding.

Metallic Bonding

In metals, the atoms are ionized, loosing some electrons from the valence band. Those electrons form a electron sea, which binds the charged nuclei in place, in a similar way that the electrons in between the H atoms in the H2 molecule bind the protons.

2.7 Secondary Bonding (Van der Waals)

Fluctuating Induced Dipole Bonds

Since the electrons may be on one side of the atom or the other, a dipole is formed: the + nucleus at the center, and the electron outside. Since the electron moves, the dipole fluctuates. This fluctuation in atom A produces a fluctuating electric field that is felt by the electrons of an adjacent atom, B. Atom B then polarizes so that its outer electrons are on the side of the atom closest to the + side (or opposite to the – side) of the dipole in A. This bond is called van der Waals bonding.

Polar Molecule-Induced Dipole Bonds

A polar molecule like H2O (Hs are partially +, O is partially – ), will induce a dipole in a nearby atom, leading to bonding.

Permanent Dipole Bonds

This is the case of the hydrogen bond in ice. The H end of the molecule is positively charged and can bond to the negative side of another dipolar molecule, like the O side of the H2O dipole.

2.8 Molecules

If molecules formed a closed shell due to covalent bonding (like H2, N2) then the interaction between molecules is weak, of the van der Waals type. Thus, molecular solids usually have very low melting points.

Review - Classification of materials

See table-chapter2.gif


  • Atomic mass unit (amu)
  • Atomic number
  • Atomic weight
  • Bonding energy
  • Coulombic force
  • Covalent bond
  • Dipole (electric)
  • Electron state
  • Electronegative
  • Electropositive
  • Hydrogen bond
  • Ionic bond
  • Metallic bond
  • Mole
  • Molecule
  • Periodic table
  • Polar molecule
  • Primary bonding
  • Secondary bonding
  • Valence electron