Electron Configuration

In atomic physics and quantum chemistry, the electron configuration is the distribution of electrons of an atom or molecule (or other physical structure) in atomic or molecular orbitals. For example, the electron configuration of the neon atom is 1s2 2s2 2p6.

Electronic configurations describe electrons as each moving independently in an orbital, in an average field created by all other orbitals. Mathematically, configurations are described by Slater determinants or configuration state functions.

According to the laws of quantum mechanics, for systems with only one electron, an energy is associated with each electron configuration and, upon certain conditions, electrons are able to move from one configuration to another by emission or absorption of a quantum of energy, in the form of a photon.

For atoms or molecules with more than one electrons, the motion of electrons are correlated and such picture is no longer exact. An infinite number of electronic configurations are needed to exactly describe any multi-electron system, and no energy can be associated with one single configuration. However, the electronic wave function is usually dominated by a very small number of configurations and therefore the notion of electronic configuration remains essential for multi-electron systems.

Electronic configuration of polyatomic molecules can change without absorption or emission of photon through vibronic couplings.

Knowledge of the electron configuration of different atoms is useful in understanding the structure of the periodic table of elements. The concept is also useful for describing the chemical bonds that hold atoms together. In bulk materials this same idea helps explain the peculiar properties of lasers and semiconductors.

Read more about Electron ConfigurationShells and Subshells, Notation, Energy — Ground State and Excited States, History, Aufbau Principle and Madelung Rule, Electron Configuration in Molecules, Applications

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