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Electron energy shells-where do they come from

  1. Nov 7, 2011 #1
    electron energy shells--where do they come from

    A quick question. Not an expert in physics, so my question will be rudimentary.-----An isolated electron and proton are traveling in space. As they approach each other, a hydrogen atom is formed. My question----what keeps the electron from approaching or colliding with the proton. The electron --now being part of an atom--is now in an energy shell. Where did this shell come from. What is the source of the energy keeping the electron and proton apart---did it materialize from one of the particles , space, ????---
    r rosenthal
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 7, 2011 #2
    Re: electron energy shells--where do they come from

    It is explained away by saying it has no definite location. It can be "anywhere" to "anywhere" every planck-second, according to the standard view. The location is "probabilistic". Continuous motion, a staple of classical mechanics, has been abandoned in this problem.
  4. Nov 7, 2011 #3


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    Re: electron energy shells--where do they come from

    The short answer is that at the scale of atoms the world does not work the way it does for us on our scale. When you push a door open you can easily see that both you and the door are solid and neither can pass through each other or do any other wierd stuff. At the quantum scale this is not true. The electron is attracted to the proton but instead of "impacting" the proton as you might expect, it instead occupies an orbital. Why is this? The most accurate answer would require an in depth discussion using the math of Quantum Mechanics. I advise you to take a look at wikipedia or local bookstore for more info on this.

    The shell that is spoken of refers to the energy level the electron can have when it is bound to an atom. Again, the shell is simply something we use to describe the layout of electrons around an atom. It is not a physical object. Once this shell is full no further electrons can occupy it, meaning that they must be in a higher energy state. (This also means that when an electron becomes bound to an atom it LOSES energy, resulting in the emission of EM radiation) Note that there is nothing "keeping" the electron from the proton. It is simply not possible for the electron to occupy the nucleus in the same way a proton or neutron does. Thus this does not require any expenditure of energy to keep it out.
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