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Potential energy separation curve

  1. Sep 2, 2010 #1
    Here's my understanding of the Force /Separation graph, I'm open to
    criticism/ridicule if I've got it wrong:

    If the two atoms are pushed together, then there is a repulsive force between
    them of a positive magnitude. If they are separated by a distance r, then the
    two forces (repulsive/attractive) are equal but opposite and the atoms are in a
    state of equilibrium. At a separation greater than r, the force is that of
    attraction, and if the separation is greater than 2r, then the attraction
    tends to zero.

    Potential Energy/Separation:

    If the two atoms are separated by an infinite distance, then there is no
    attraction between them, and there is no Potential Energy. But as they come
    closer together, Potential Energy decrease until at a distance of r, potential
    energy is at a minimum. If the separation is reduced further, the line of
    Potential Energy passes through zero.

    Why is the potential energy zero? What actually happens to the 2 atoms when the potential energy becomes zero? :confused:

    I'm confused, can anyone clear this up for me please?

    Thanks. :smile:
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 2, 2010 #2
    Nothing special actually. The absolute value of the potential energy has no meaning as the reference point can be arbitrarily chosen , in principle.
    The existence of a minimum (no matter if this value is negative, positive or even zero) is a meaningful feature and does not depend on the choice of the reference point.
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