The science programs in the public school systems seem to think that it’s still 1950, and usually jog quite far behind the actual science of the age. I’ve always found that odd, after all, the sole purpose of a science teacher is to educate students on the current scientific climate. One of the strangest things is that the curriculum for the lower-level courses still teach Niel Bohr’s model of atomic theory, where electrons orbit around a nucleus. While this is usually corrected in higher-level classes, most of the world isn’t a nerd like me and simply accepts Bohr’s model as the true one, despite the fact that atomic orbitals have been around since 1920. Yes, it’s more complicated, but why teach kids false information?
Thus, to correct the public at large: SCIENCE!
As most of you know, an atom is made up of three subatomic units: the proton (p^+), the neutron (n^0), and the electron (e^-). The positively charged protons and neutral neutrons sit in a dense ball in the middle, called the nucleus, while the negatively-charged electrons float around above.
Now, the electrons don’t follow a certain path, they instead occupy “orbitals”. Orbitals are areas where a electron is likely to be at any given moment, for a bunch of reasons that I won’t go into. The clouds aren’t actual boundaries or paths, simply areas where the electron probably is. A single electron can actually teleport around inside the orbitals, and can occupy any orbital in the same energy level (letter and number) as long as it isn’t already filled.
You can see the different kinds of orbitals below.
The order that the orbitals form is simple. The first two electrons go into the 1S orbital. Then the next two go into the 2S orbital, and six go into the 2P orbital, since P has the Px, Py, and Pz orbitals (see above), adding up to a total of six orbitals to fill. Next comes the 3S orbital, then six in the 3P orbital.
This may seem complicated, but look at a periodic table:
Notice anything about the order of the rows? Two elements in the first row… then two on the left and six on the right… then the same 2,6 pattern again… you see where I’m going with this.
This pattern continues in the following pattern: 2 electrons in 1S, 2 in 2S, 6 in 2P, 2 in 3S, 6 in 3P, 2 in 4S, 6 in 4P, 10 in 3D
The third kind of orbital, the D orbital, comes into play after the third row. Conveniently, this is where all the metals start on the periodic table, the added 10 elements to the row (<gasp!>, not a coincidence). When naming the orbitals, the D orbital is always one number lower than the S and P of the row.
In short, every element has a combination of S, P, and D, orbitals. F, G, H, and I come into play later, but let’s not worry about them. The number of electrons, which is the same as the atomic number (the number of the element on the chart) in a neutral element.
Thus, if we had carbon, it would be a full 1S and 2S, with a 2P with electrons in two of the six orbitals.
This has run farther than your attention span already, probably, so I’ll wrap it up. The theory is much more complex than what I’ve described, but this is at least the basics. See, was that really so hard to understand? Public school teachers, your students aren’t idiots, but if you keep treating them as if they were then they will quickly become lazy and moronic.
If you have any questions, feel free to comment.