Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Most accurate way to visualise an atom.

  1. Apr 22, 2012 #1
    Good morning. I am wondering what is the most accurate way to visualise an atom. In class the teacher draws spheres orbiting spheres, but, according to quantum mechanics, that is far from the truth. How do physicists visualise atoms or particles?

    Thank you.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 22, 2012 #2
  4. Apr 22, 2012 #3

    mfb

    User Avatar
    2016 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    That depends on the situation. The trick is to find the visualization which is appropriate for the system you consider.

    Energy levels in an atom? Orbitals.
    Compton effect? Point-like electrons are fine.
    High-energy particle physics? Individual particles are usually quite similar to billard balls, their decay is quantum mechanics.
    Solid state physics? Use quasi-particles and other effective models, if necessary.
    Fine structure in atoms? Do the math.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook