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

Nature of Electrons inside an atom!

  1. Jun 17, 2014 #1

    I am reading about the quantum model of the atomic structure, and recently encountered the Schrödinger’s model. However I am a bit confused about the nature of the electrons. Can we think of an electron a wave or as a particle when it is inside an atom? I know that in Schrödinger’s theory, an electron always has a probability wave associated with it. So does this fact suggest that an electron is a wave inside an atom? I don’t really understand why we need to have the probability waves at all though. I mean why can we never find exactly where an electron is inside the atom? Is it because of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 17, 2014 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Read this:

    Read also about this iconic experiment:
    Particle impacts make visible the interference pattern of waves.

    This animated picture shows an interference pattern produced by particles hitting the screen one by on.
    Although the dots that appear one by one suggest the existence of particles,
    the interference pattern suggest particles behave like waves.

    That's the basic fact of quantum mechanics.
    There is nothing to understand there and there is no way to understand as a particle-only or wave-only behaviour. It is both at the same time.

    Likewise, in an atom of hydrogen, electrons behave both as particles and as waves.
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2014
  4. Jun 17, 2014 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    Its best IMHO to put such images as waves, particles etc to one side. Its really none of those things - its quantum stuff.

    What's quantum stuff? Check out:

    Actually I now think to start with it may be better to look at QM as an approximation to an even deeper theory - Quantum Field Theory. Many issues are easier to come to grips with that way:

    To really understand stuff like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle some deep math is required.

    But just to explain it, what it says is if you have a lot of systems prepared exactly the same way and in half of them you measured position it will have a statistical distribution. In the other half you measure momentum and it will have a statistical distribution. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle puts bounds on the variances of those distributions. It says if you end up with a large variance in one the other can be small and conversely. It is also possible for both to have a 'moderate' variance. But both cant have a small variance. Some texts however are not so careful in how they state it.

    Also note it follows from the principles of QM rather than being a principle itself.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  5. Jun 17, 2014 #4
    Richard Feynman amused at it saying that it is wave on Monday particle on Tuesday etc.
    He said it is neither wave nor particle but just quantum.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook