Saturday, June 5

Quantum Physics, electron clouds etc.

This week I finally got my head around waves and particles, mainly the visualisation of electrons and atoms. Over the last 20 or so years, I have read a number of popular books about quantum physics and particles and vaguely understood the concept of the wave being a graphical representation of the probability of finding a particle in a location. But I could never really visualise this in 3 dimensions or how a wave could be constricted in a three dimensional space.

When I was a teenager we were taught the old school orbiting electrons idea of an atom, which frankly was never really satisfactory and was purely an attempt at visualising something scientists didn't really fully understand. At the time I don't think I was really interested in abstract concepts of atoms etc. Higher level implementations of physics were of more interest, eg. digital electronics.

I think the modern models of electron clouds based on wave functions (spherical harmonics) around an atom are far more beautiful, even if they are extremely complex once you go beyond the hydrogen atom.
Harmonics are interesting things and adding two dimensional wave forms together can give some interesting shapes, so it should be of no surprise that electrons of an atom would create some interesting three dimensional shapes, depending on energy levels/frequency and the number of electrons involved.

One has to always remember though that the shapes are just zones in which an electron is likely to be found, at any point in time it would be detected at a single point in one of the lobes/nodes created by the wave functions.

The maths are beyond me, although it does look familiar. I think that is enough for one week on that subject! I'm just glad that it makes sense to me now. Or does it...

If you want to play around with spherical harmonics, Wolfram Mathematica have a player that can be downloaded, plus if you also download one of the spherical harmonics demonstrations on the site, you can play around with electrons and see what shapes it creates.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It gets really interesting why you go down to how smaller sub atomic particles might work!!