In atomic physics, and the field of quantum chemistry, the electron configuration is the way the electrons are distributed in an atom or a molecule within the atomic or molecular orbitals. As an example, the electronic configuration of neon is 1s2 2s2 2p6 using the method of notation. Electronic configuration is a way of describing the way each electron is moving independently inside an orbital, within an average field being created by all the other orbitals. Using mathematics, configurations are determined by Slater determinants or configuration state functions.
Relating to the laws of quantum mechanics, for the system having a single electron, a specific level of energy is associated with the configuration of each electron and in certain conditions as specified, electrons have the ability to move from one configuration to another configuration by either the emission or absorption of quantum energy in the form of a photon. This particular knowledge about the electronic configuration helps in understanding the periodic table of elements.
Electronic configuration was first introduced under the Bohr model of atom, and has a common inclusion of shells and subshells taking into consideration the quantum-mechanical nature of electrons. An electron shell is a collective set of the allowed states that have a common principal quantum number which the electrons may occupy. The nth shell of an atom can accommodate 2n2 number of electrons. For example, the first shell can accommodate 2 electrons, the second shell has a space for 8 electrons, the third shell accommodates 18 electrons and it carries on.
A subshell is a set of collective sets which is defined by the azimuthal quantum, l which takes a part within a shell. The values of l = 0,1,2,3 corresponding to the s, p, d, and f labels on a respective basis. For example, the 3d subshell has n = 3 and l = 2. The number of electrons which can be placed maximum in a subshell is calculated by the formula, 2(2l+1). This distributes two electrons in the s subshell, six electrons in the p subshell, ten electrons in the d subshell and fourteen electrons in the f subshell.
There exists a general set of principles which is followed while implementing the methods of electronic configuration. These are Aufbau’s principle, Pauli-Exclusion principle and Hund’s rule.
Aufbau’s principle – this is a German term which means ‘building up’. This principle is also known as the building up principle, which states that the occupancy of electrons depends upon the increasing order of energy of each electron.
Hund’s rule – this rule states that, whenever electrons occupy degenerate orbitals, it must be kept in mind that the empty orbitals should have the first preference regarding the occupancy. In addition to this, the most stable configuration is a result of parallel spins.
Pauli’s exclusion principle – Wolfgang Pauli placed forward a postulation that each electron is described with a specific unique set of four quantum numbers. Hence, if two electrons have an occupancy within the same orbital, the spin of both the electrons must be paired.
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