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

What happens if an atom's electron configuration remains unstable?

  1. Sep 1, 2015 #1
    What happens if an atom's electronic configuration remains unstable? So we know atoms react with each other to share or transfer electrons, causing them to bond. It's in their nature to do so; if they do not, they'll remain unstable (apart from some Noble gases which are already stable). What is there is no other element present, or no activation energy to allow an element to react? Those atoms will remain electronically unstable.

    When a nucleus is unstable due to too many neutrons, radiation is emitted until the element reaches a stable state, Lead (Pb). What about when the valence shell of an atom isn't full but the nucleus is stable, what will happen to the 'unstable' atom over a long period of time? Is the atom actually unstable in any way, or is it just called "unstable" with nothing really wrong with it?

    Thank you.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 1, 2015 #2

    mfb

    User Avatar
    2016 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    Those atoms are not "electronically unstable", they are in their ground state - they are just very reactive. That is not special to isolated atoms, fluorine molecules are very reactive as well for example. If there is nothing to react with, nothing happens.
    That is an actual instability of the object. This has nothing to do with the single atoms discussed before.
     
  4. Sep 1, 2015 #3

    DrDu

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    It is not unstable, at least not in the same way as a nucleus of a radioactive element. Let's consider the valence electron in an alkali metal. It is bound and will remain so forever as long as the atom is isolated and not e.g. irradiated. However, when a bond is formed in a compound, there may be places where it is energetically even more stable, e.g. on a chlorine atom nearby.
     
  5. Sep 1, 2015 #4
    Ahh, so the answer to that last question I asked in the thread post is "Yes"? The atom isn't technically unstable, it's just called that due to how easily it can react?
     
  6. Sep 1, 2015 #5
    I see. How could it be more energetically stable when ionically bonding with another element though?
     
  7. Sep 1, 2015 #6

    mfb

    User Avatar
    2016 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    Why not?
    The (initially free) energy level for an electron around the chlorine atom is lower than the energy level the outermost electron of sodium (for example) occupies before the bond occurs.
     
  8. Sep 1, 2015 #7
    Why would a valence electron of Chlorine have more energy than one of Sodium, and how would it hold this energy? Also, how would an atom be more energetically stable in a compound? Thank you.
     
  9. Sep 1, 2015 #8

    mfb

    User Avatar
    2016 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    It has less energy.
    It can go into a shell that "sees" a higher nuclear charge (the charge of the atom if you would remove all 7 valence electrons: +7), while the lone electron in sodium just sees an effective charge of 1. Higher charge => energy levels are lower => electron tends to go to lower energy level.
    The compound is a state of lower energy.
     
  10. Sep 1, 2015 #9
    What determines the energy of an electron? I assume it isn't measured in Joules, like heat energy. Does this rule of energy also apply to neutrons an protons?
     
  11. Sep 1, 2015 #10

    mfb

    User Avatar
    2016 Award

    Staff: Mentor

    Its potential and kinetic energy. You need quantum mechanics to understand the details of orbitals, but the idea is the same as in classical mechanics. If it is closer to the (attracting) nucleus it has a lower potential and lower total energy.
    It is an energy, you can measure it in Joules. Electronvolts are a more convenient unit, but that's like giving distances in kilometers or miles - which one you pick doesn't influence the physics.
    The protons and neutrons in a nucleus have their energy levels as well, but calculating those is much more complicated.
     
  12. Sep 2, 2015 #11
    Understood, thanks.
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: What happens if an atom's electron configuration remains unstable?
  1. What happens to atoms? (Replies: 3)

Loading...