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Q & A: atom shells and orbitals

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Most recent answer: 01/09/2013
Q:
How are orbitals in an atom related to shells?
- Jennifer (age 14)
Singapore
A:
Hi Jennifer,

In an atom, an electron orbital describes where you might find a single electron. Orbitals that are similar in certain ways are grouped together in a shell.

As an example, think about a helium atom and a lithium atom. There are two electrons in helium atoms, and each electron has its own orbital. However, since the two orbitals are similar (in a very precise mathematical way) they are both part of the same shell. Lithium atoms have three electrons, however the third electron has an orbital that is not similar to the first two. So in lithium the third electron is in a different shell than the first two.

Henry



(published on 01/09/2013)

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