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Orbital hybridization and lone electrons

  1. Sep 22, 2011 #1
    Do single non bonding electrons (i.e. on a free radical) always occupy non hybrid orbitals? For example the methyl radical has trigonal planar molecular geometry so the lone electron must occupy a p orbital. Why doesn't it occupy an sp3 orbital instead?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 23, 2011 #2


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    Think of it as a hole occupying a p orbital. A p orbital is higher in energy than an s orbital or a sp hybrid. So it is energetically advantageous for the hole being in a pure p orbital than in an sp hybrid.
    Alternatively you can say that using sp2 for the bonds you maximize the occupancy of the low lying s orbital.
  4. Sep 24, 2011 #3
    A hole? I don't understand your explanation at all. By hole, do you mean a lack of energy? In other words, the electron has less energy than an electron pair and therefore occupies the p orbital to account for this lack of energy?

    As for your 2nd explanation, wouldn't using sp3 maximize the occupancy for the s orbital regardless of whether one of the sp3 orbitals is only occupied by a lone electron? Inversely, you could say that sp2 hybridizing minimizes the occupancy of the p orbitals but it doesn't really cuz either way there are just as many electrons occupying the orbitals, regardless of how many of them are hybridized.

    EDIT: Ah wait, I see what you mean now. By only putting pairs into hybrid orbitals then there are no vacant spaces left in the s orbital.
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2011
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