I'm finding it difficult to visualise the process of hybridisation. Taking the example of formation of $\ce{CH4}$, can it viewed as the collapsing of the p orbitals of the Carbon atoms as they get "heavier" on excitation even before the introduction of Hydrogen atoms or is it the collision with Hydrogen atoms that causes the fusion?

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    $\begingroup$ Hybridisation is purely a mathematical construct, the p orbitals do not actually collapse or anything like that. (To be honest the entire concept of an orbital is also a mathematical construct.) $\endgroup$ Jun 26, 2015 at 11:23

1 Answer 1


Hybridization is a mathematical concept developed to cope up the flaws of Valence Bond theory. It hinges solely on the linear combination of wavefunctions of atomic orbitals having more or less same energy. Hybridized state is a purely theoretical concept & cannot be detected even spectroscopically.

There is nothing like "collapse." The wavefunction of a hybridized orbital is "mixing" of the atomic orbitals only. The number of hybrid orbitals are same as the number of atomic orbitals participating in the "mixing up". The wavefunctions interfere constructively or destructively to give rise to equivalent orbitals known as hybrid orbitals.

The Methane Case:

Carbon has valence configuration: $2s^2 2p_x ^1 2p_y^1$. So, VB theory predicts that it can form two bonds. This is one of the main defect of VB theory. Then promotion comes to the rescue! One electron from $2s$ gets promoted to unoccupied $2p_z$ orbital, so as to make the configuration: $2s^12p_x^12p_y^12p_z^1$ . So, $\ce{C}$ can form four bonds. But still there is a problem: experiments show that the four bonds in methane are exactly equivalent which is not possible by this configuration since $s$ & $p$ orbitals are not same. To deal with the problem, concept of hybridization was developed. Hybridization gives rise to four equivalent orbitals but having different orientations (four corners of the tetrahedron.) The non-normalized wavefunctions of four orbitals are as follows: $$\psi_1 = \psi_s + \psi_{p_x} + \psi_{p_y} + \psi_{p_z}\\\\\\ \psi_2 =\psi_s - \psi_{p_x} + \psi_{p_y} - \psi_{p_z}\\\\\\ \psi_3=\psi_s - \psi_{p_x} - \psi_{p_y} + \psi_{p_z}\\\\\\ \psi_4 = \psi_s + \psi_{p_x} - \psi_{p_y} - \psi_{p_z}$$

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(source: prenhall.com)

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah I see the pattern, virtually everything in chemistry is explained by quantum theory. Anyways, thanks @user36790 for the suggestion :) $\endgroup$
    – Apoorv
    Jun 27, 2015 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ sorry I don't get your question, do you mean class as in talking about school? $\endgroup$
    – Apoorv
    Jun 27, 2015 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$
    – Apoorv
    Jun 27, 2015 at 7:21
  • $\begingroup$ Is hybridization just a kind of superposition of wavefunctions of the electrons? $\endgroup$ Jul 26, 2023 at 9:06

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