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I am reading an introductory semiconductor physics textbook. The textbook states the following:

Several types of atomic bonding have been identified, including ionic, covalent, van der Waals, hydrogen, and metallic. Whatever the name given to the type of bonding, in all cases it is the electrostatic force acting between charged particles that is responsible for all the forms of bonding.

My concern is with the validity of the latter sentence; that is, that all cases of bonding are electrostatic forces acting between charged particles.

Wikipedia says the following:

A chemical bond is a lasting attraction between atoms, ions or molecules that enables the formation of chemical compounds. The bond may result from the electrostatic force of attraction between oppositely charged ions as in ionic bonds or through the sharing of electrons as in covalent bonds.

If electrostatic forces act between charged particles (ions), and atoms are, by definition, neutral particles, then, since atoms do bond, how can it make sense to say that all bonding is electrostatic forces acting between charged particles?

And my interpretation of the Wikipedia article is that the electrostatic force of attraction is responsible for bonding between oppositely charged ions, as in ionic bonding, whereas it is not responsible for bonding through the sharing of electrons, as in covalent bonding.

So is the textbook's claim that all types of bonding are electrostatic forces acting between charged particles false?

I would appreciate it if people could please take the time to clarify this.


marked as duplicate by Mithoron, A.K., Todd Minehardt, Tyberius, Karsten Theis Mar 29 at 21:51

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  • $\begingroup$ Forget atoms. Look deeper. Then the claim is true. $\endgroup$ – Ivan Neretin Mar 28 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ @IvanNeretin Oh? How so? $\endgroup$ – The Pointer Mar 28 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ Don't over think the scope here. The nucleus has a positive charge and the electrons have a negative charge. Hence the structure of atoms and molecules depend on electrostatic forces. $\endgroup$ – MaxW Mar 28 at 17:21

You ask how bonding between two neutral atoms can be electrostatic. In the case of covalent and van der waals the electrostatic basis is not so obvious as it is for ionic compounds. A covalent bond forms when two neutral atoms establish a shared molecular orbital which is much larger than the separate atomic orbitals that the bonding electrons contributed by each atom formerly occupied. Electrostatic repulsion favors electron pairs being in larger orbitals, because this increases average distance between the electrons. In the case of Van der Waals attraction, the neutral atoms are electrostatically attracted because when their electrons are not symmetrically distributed, there is a partial positive charge at one end of a molecule and a partial negative at the other, even though overall charge is zero. Electrons in adjoining molecules will tend to synchronize their movements so that the positive end of one molecule will be near the negative end of the adjoining molecule; this is called induced charge.


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