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Usually two separate p orbitals would have '4 lobes' while in a $\ce{sp^2}$ hybrid those 2 p orbitals would only have '3 lobes'. why?

I'm referring to diagrams such as the one shown below:

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1 Answer 1

First, an $sp^2$ orbital does have two lobes. One is large, and one is tiny. Secondly, $sp^2$ means "a 'mixture' of one $s$ and two $p$ orbitals". Like the following:

enter image description here

So, you plug in three orbitals, and you get out three more orbitals. When drawn in place, you get this:

enter image description here

There are a total of six lobes here, but they are distributed amongst three $sp^2$ orbitals.

The number of lobes need not stay constant--it's the number of orbitals that does, since each orbital corresponds to two electrons, and there's no way for new electrons to be added/removed (yet). What's happening is that the wavefunctions(orbitals) of the electrons are "mixing up" to distribute the electrons in a way that stimulates bonding (one per orbital). The lobes have a significance, but it's much deeper.

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