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Electrons in a shell absorb energy and move to higher energy levels, but they release their energy and jump back to the shell they originally were in. Why do they jump back? Why can they not keep revolving around the nucleus?

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    $\begingroup$ If you throw a ball up in the air, why does it come back down? $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 8 '21 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ This is a very difficult question to answer because it asks "why" for a fundamental process. $\endgroup$ Jan 8 '21 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ Similar question on Physics.SE: Why do electrons in an atom 'fall' back to the ground state? $\endgroup$
    – Ruslan
    Jan 9 '21 at 9:14
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    $\begingroup$ Note that despite common misconception, electrons do not "revolve" around the nucleus. $\endgroup$ Jan 9 '21 at 9:46
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    $\begingroup$ It touches the fundamental question Why systems or objects have tendency to reach the lowest available energy level ? $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jan 13 '21 at 14:14
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This is a very fundamental question and for really understanding the "why" some advanced physics is involved. I will describe the process rather superficially.

As you might know, the level energies of atoms and molecules can be calculated (in principle) using quantum mechanics. The simplest system is the hydrogen atom as it consists of a single proton and a single electron. Ignoring higher order effects (such as interactions of electron and nuclear spins and QED effects), the quantum mechanical calculation gives the same result as the Bohr model, that is, the level energies of hydrogen are given by the Balmer formula, which you probably know.

The calculation does not predict that the excited levels fall back to the ground state. An electron in an excited orbital will, according to this calculation, always stay in this orbital if nothing happens to the system.

Because we know that excited states decay, something must happen to the system to induce the decay. It turns out that in our calculation we have ignored the interaction of the atom with the photon field. Atoms can absorb light and emit light and we have completely neglected this. If you do take this coupling into account, you will find that excited states have a limited lifetime and that an excited electron will fall back to a lower level eventually.

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Many things are only stable in their lowest energy state: electrons are no different

Hold a ball in your hand. It is, in effect, in an excited state. Open your hand and the ball falls to the floor, without much effort or any push. Set the ball on the floor and it doesn't move. It is in its lowest energy state and won't move around unless given a push.

Many things are like that in the world. A cone is stable resting on its base. But resting on its tip, the very slightest fluctuation will cause it to fall over. This is a little like an electron being in an excited state, as is the case with a ball.

An electron in a high energy state is (to leave out a whole bunch of complicated quantum stuff) like the cone or the ball. Mostly, the slightest nudge it gets will cause it to fall to the state where it can exist at the lowest possible energy level.

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    $\begingroup$ what provides the required nudge to an electron or what leaves the electron like we did with balls ? $\endgroup$
    – Ankit
    Jan 9 '21 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Ankit The important thing is that there are nudges, knowing exactly what they are is probably very complex. One (obvious) source is interactions with other atoms or photons, which are common and very very frequent. Another could be random quantum fluctuations (compare the question to "what causes a radioactive atom to decay" there really isn't a simple explanation. $\endgroup$
    – matt_black
    Jan 10 '21 at 1:20
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There is a general heuristic in quantum physics, often referred to jokingly as the totalitarian principle, that everything not forbidden is compulsory. That is, any process that can occur will occur, with some rate, probability, or cross-section, provided that it doesn't violate any conservation laws.

An atom in an excited state can in most cases emit a photon without violating any conservation laws. (There are states like the 2s state of hydrogen that can't decay by emission of a single E1 photon because of conservation of parity.) Therefore we expect that this process will occur at some rate.

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Matter can gain or lose energy in small, specific amounts called quanta. A quantum is the minimum amount of energy that can be gained or lost by an atom. For example, it might seem that you can add any amount of heat to water, but what is actually happening is that the water molecules absorb quanta of energy which increases the water's temperature in infinitesimal steps. Because these steps are so small, the temperature seems to rise in a continuous, rather than a stepwise manner.

Now, what does this have to do with energy levels and electrons? Well, the reason why matter can gain or lose energy only is small, specific amounts is because of the energy levels in the atoms. Presented by the equation here created by Planck: Quantum E = hv, (h is Plank's constant and v is the frequency) for a given frequency, matter can emit or absorb energy in whole number multiples, like legos. You can only take or add a whole lego, not a part of it. Therefore, quantities of energy between the whole number multiples do not exist, meaning there are fixed energy levels in an atom with quantized energy (because energy is absorbed through electrons in energy levels) and electrons can only exist within the energy levels, not between them. Each energy level has a higher quantized energy than the previous. So, to answer your question, when an electron absorbs energy (a specific amount of energy), the electrons moves up to higher energy levels because the electron has a higher quantized energy than its own energy level. Similarly, when the electron releases energy (a specific amount of energy), the electrons moves down to its original energy level because it has lost the absorbed energy and has the same quantized energy as its own energy level.

Hope I answered your question!

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    $\begingroup$ Hi @Jake, this is not an answer to the question, which is about the stability of excited states. You give a description of quantization of energy levels. $\endgroup$
    – Paul
    Dec 21 '21 at 9:15

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