Principal quantum number n, large ones for hydrogen

In summary, the largest value of n that would be possible for a gas of atomic hydrogen with a density of ρ = 7.1 10-10 g/cm3 is 5.8455, taking into account the mass of both the electron and proton and not rounding the answer.
  • #1
hi folks, had a problem I couldn't do, though I made a valiant effort. perhaps you can tell me where I went wrong.

Homework Statement

All integer values of the principal quantum number n, even very large ones, are allowed in atoms. In practice, it is very hard to excite orbits that correspond to large n values in an atom unless the atom is totally isolated. Estimate the largest value of n that would be possible if you could make a gas of atomic hydrogen of density ρ = 7.1 10-10 g/cm3. For practical purposes, we regard an interatomic spacing of at least three times the diameter of the large-n atom as total isolation.
n_max =

Homework Equations

r_n = a_0 * (n^2), Bohr radius equation
a_0 = 5.3*10^(-11) m

The Attempt at a Solution

so I considered each atom as being in a cube L wide. L is the interatomic spacing, so L=3d=6*r_n=6*a_0*n^2=6*5.3*10^(-11)*n^2. our task is to find the value of n here.

Since we're given a density, which equals Mass/Volume, I arbitrarily set Volume = 1 cm^3, to make things easier.
Given a collection of these cubes stacked together in a large cube, say x*L is the side length. that is, there are x of these little cubes that each have a side length L. So this collection of cubes has a Volume of 1 cm3, therefore the side length has to be 1cm. so x*L=1cm=1*10^(-2)m.
But we also know the density, given at 7.1*10^(-10) g/cm^3. Since we set V = 1, this means the mass = 7.1*10^(-10)g.
The mass of the collection of little cubes is x^3 * m_e, the mass of an electron. (is this correct?...I just realized the mass of hydrogen, its proton, I completely ignored...). So I set x^3 = (7.1*10^(-10)g)/m_e, and substitute m_e = 9.109 * 10^(-28) g

x^3 = (7.1*10^(-10)g)/(9.109*10^(-28)g) Solving for x, I get x=920300. this is the number of hydrogen atoms in our collection of little cubes.

now, back to x*L=1*10^(-2)m. Solving for L, I get L = 1/(x*100) m. But since we know what L is, we can substitute it. so 6*5.3*10^(-11)*n^2=1/(x*100) m. We figured out x using the other route, so plugging x in, we get.

6*5.3*10^(-11)*n^2 = 1/(920300*100) . now solving for n^2, I get

n^2=1/(6*5.3*10^(-11)*920300*100), and

n^2=34.1699, so that n=5.8455.

I rounded this answer down to 5, since the the principal quantum number n has to be an integer, but this answer 5 was wrong.

so. here are my thoughts. maybe i should just put 5.8455? or maybe I should rework the problem including the mass of hydrogen's proton? perhaps that is what led me to a wrong answer. i emailed the prof about integer vs. exact answer, and of course he never responded so... yeah.

i'd appreciate any thoughts here or suggestions.

Thanks much,
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  • #2
turns out that both my concerns were valid. once I included the mass of the proton along with the electron, that led to the right answer. also, the prof/computer wanted an exact answer, so no rounding.
  • #3
Hello Yroyathon,

Thank you for sharing your attempt at the solution. It seems like you have a good understanding of the concepts involved, but there are a few errors in your calculations that led to the incorrect answer.

Firstly, when you calculated the number of atoms in a cube with a side length of L, you used the mass of an electron instead of the mass of a hydrogen atom. This is a crucial error because the mass of an electron is much smaller than the mass of a hydrogen atom, which would significantly change the value of x and ultimately the value of n.

Secondly, when you calculated the value of L, you used x*100 instead of x/100. This also led to a different value for L and ultimately a different value for n.

To correct these errors, you can use the mass of a hydrogen atom (1.67*10^-24 g) instead of the mass of an electron, and use x/100 instead of x*100 when calculating L. This should give you a value of n around 1000, which is a more reasonable answer for the largest value of n in a gas of atomic hydrogen at a density of 7.1*10^-10 g/cm^3.

I hope this helps. Keep up the good work!

Best regards,

1. What is the significance of the principal quantum number n in hydrogen?

The principal quantum number n in hydrogen refers to the energy level of the electron. It determines the size and energy of the orbit of the electron around the nucleus. A higher n value indicates a larger and more energetic orbit.

2. How does the principal quantum number n affect the energy of the electron?

The energy of the electron increases as the principal quantum number n increases. This is because a higher n value corresponds to a higher energy level and a larger orbital radius, resulting in a greater distance between the electron and the nucleus.

3. What is the maximum value of the principal quantum number n for hydrogen?

The maximum value of the principal quantum number n for hydrogen is infinity. However, for practical purposes, the n value is typically limited to around 7 or 8 due to the decreasing energy difference between energy levels at higher values.

4. How does the principal quantum number n relate to the number of subshells in hydrogen?

The number of subshells in hydrogen is equal to the principal quantum number n. For example, if n=3, there are 3 subshells in hydrogen (1s, 2s, and 3s). Each subshell can hold a maximum of 2n^2 electrons.

5. Can the principal quantum number n have a negative value?

No, the principal quantum number n cannot have a negative value. It is always a positive integer and is used to describe the energy state and size of the electron's orbit in an atom.

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