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Why do electrons with orbitals farther from the nucleus have greater e

  1. Sep 16, 2013 #1
    If the electrons closer to the nucleus experience greater electrostatic attraction from the nucleus, would not the closer electrons require more energy to stay in orbit? Also, the electron shielding from the inner electrons would reduce the energy required to stay farther away from the nucleus for electrons in the outer orbitals.

    I just don't exactly understand what is meant by the phrase higher orbitals have higher energy.

    In terms of the electrons themselves, I don't exactly understand why electrons in farther orbitals have higher energy than those closer to the nucleus Is it a precursor to being in the orbital? And if so, why?

    I am currently only in introductory chemistry and physics, and have learned a little about wave functions and how the frequencies of electrons changes as n increases. A clarification on how and why the frequency changes as n increases would also be extremely helpful, along with any additional comments.

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 16, 2013 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    It takes work to pull an electron away from an atom. Therefore higher orbitals have higher energy.
  4. Sep 16, 2013 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    It means that energy will be released when an electron drops from a higher orbital to a lower one, and conversely that energy has to be added to push an electron into a higher orbital. That's consistent with your observation about shielding and electrostatic attraction.
  5. Sep 16, 2013 #4
    May be a gravitational analogy will help. Lifting an object requires energy because it is attracted by Earth's gravity. Similarly lifting an electron to a higher orbit requires energy because it is attracted by the protons in the nucleus
  6. Sep 16, 2013 #5


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    (In the usual convention), the energy of a bound electron is negative. The electrons in lower energy states are more tightly bound and have lower energies on the number line, but higher absolute value of energy.
  7. Sep 17, 2013 #6


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    I think that is adding confusion. It is actually wrong. The inner electrons have a lower (i.e.more negative) potential; they have fallen deeper into the potential well of the nucleus. They require more energy for them to be released from the hold of the nucleus. That's all there is to it.
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