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Electrons jumping

  1. Dec 28, 2008 #1
    What exactly do the mean when an electron "jumps" from an energy level to another energy level in an atom. Do they mean tunneling?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 28, 2008 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    They change their energy by emitting or absorbing a photon to make up the difference.

    Tunneling through what?
  4. Dec 28, 2008 #3
    Well, i was under the assumption that the electron can exist in certain wave distributions according to the Schrodinger equation. Since it can't smoothly transition (or can it?), because its not a solution to the Schrodinger equation, it has to change its wave distribution instantly. So would this be a form of tunneling?
  5. Dec 28, 2008 #4


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    Science Advisor

    I believe this is where the term "quantum leap" originated. The electron cannot smoothly transition, and so it goes from one energy state to another without passing through the space in between. This is not actual "tunneling" since, as JTBell points out, tunneling must pass through some obstacle or barrier. Also included within the definition of tunneling is the fact that a particle must overcome an obstruction that it does not have sufficient energy to surmount, if it were a classical particle.

    However, the two phenomena are similar, and that the electron seems to go from one orbital to another without passing through the intervening space.
  6. Dec 28, 2008 #5


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    Staff Emeritus
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    No, there's no tunneling here.

    First of all, I'm not sure why you originally posted this in the classical physics forum. It has been moved into the Quantum Physics forum.

    Secondly, in tunneling, the particle DOES go through the classical forbidden region. In an atomic transition, the atom (and electron in question) does not really make a "motion" across from one state to another. It is, as far as we know, an instant "jump".

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