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How to picture orbitals?

  1. Nov 4, 2007 #1
    I'm not sure why, but I could never really picture & grasp this concept. Say you're drawing the orbitals of an atom, the 1s & 2s orbitals are pretty easy to draw. They are just spheres with a node in between them. Now do these orbitals overlap, or does one start where the node ends? What really got me to ask the question is, I've got no idea about the 2p orbital, because all the pictures in the textbook show it starting at origin in the xyz plane.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 4, 2007 #2


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    Do no general chemistry textbooks shows figures of orbitals? Best guess is that some orbitals overlap others - only a guess at this time from me. Smarter people should comment.
  4. Nov 6, 2007 #3
    I think your talking about showing the orbitals in terms of quantum calculations, therefore the 1s orbital has an extremely high proability at just over 0pm away from the nucleus then decays from that point onward. As for 2s this has a small probability of being fairly close to the nucleus, then a node, then a hightened probability, if you were to plot radial distance against proability it would give a "2 humped" graph.

    As for P-Orbitals, they have a "1 humped" disribution if its a 2p orbital, the proability of occuring close to the nucleus is MUCH lower than a 1s orbital, a 3p orbital has two humps, one small then one bigger.

    Its difficult to explain it in words, since the orbital shapes are primarily calculated from quantum numbers, and the distributions are calculated from single electron system wavefunctions but, thats what the internets here for.


    This website shows the probability distributions for a hydrogenic atom


    This seems a bit of a missed cause, but scroll down slightly and you will see some red looking orbital pictures, which are calculated from a hydrogen atom and give a visual overlook of the orbitals.

    Going DEEP into this sort of stuff can be painful though, as differant chemists can have differant views on the atomic orbitals, some organic chemists may go along the lines of saying that all orbitals are like that for multi-electron systems (like iron actually having d orbitals "Pokeing out" and causing ligand field splitting in coordination chemistry). But at least in my chemistry department the physical chemists make it quite clear that the molecular orbital approach of having 1 wavefunction to display an entire atom means that the orbitals are generally "approximated" to be the shape of the hydrogenically calculated ones, but in reality to my quantum prof he makes it unbelieveably clear that "orbitals dont exist" for multi-electron systems.

    So yeah, it becomes a massive headache that mainly comes from the fact that solving the scrodinger equation for multi-electron systems is incredibly difficult.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2007
  5. Nov 12, 2007 #4
    I had this same issue as you. I needed a picture, something like the Bohr model. But the config is just too cloudy--pardon the pun--to make a picture. What really helped me get a grip on the whole 1s 2s 2p thing was from a chart that I found at the below listed link:


    Hope that helps
  6. Jan 11, 2008 #5
    Orbital Viewer.

    Search in google for a software called "Orbital Viewer". It can give u a 3 dimensional model of any orbital. You can specify the quantum numbers (n,l,m) and certain other parameters to get the shape of the orbital. Its very interesting.
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