Skip to main content
Physics LibreTexts

30: Atomic Physics

  • Page ID
  • Atomic physics studies atoms as an isolated system of electrons and an atomic nucleus and is primarily concerned with the arrangement of electrons around the nucleus and the processes by which these arrangements change. This comprises ions, neutral atoms and, unless otherwise stated, it can be assumed that the term atom includes ions.

    • 30.0: Prelude to Atomic Physics
      From childhood on, we learn that atoms are a substructure of all things around us, from the air we breathe to the autumn leaves that blanket a forest trail. Invisible to the eye, the existence and properties of atoms are used to explain many phenomena—a theme found throughout this text.
    • 30.1: Discovery of the Atom
      How do we know that atoms are really there if we cannot see them with our eyes? A brief account of the progression from the proposal of atoms by the Greeks to the first direct evidence of their existence follows.
    • 30.2: Discovery of the Parts of the Atom - Electrons and Nuclei
      Just as atoms are a substructure of matter, electrons and nuclei are substructures of the atom. The experiments that were used to discover electrons and nuclei reveal some of the basic properties of atoms and can be readily understood using ideas such as electrostatic and magnetic force, already covered in previous chapters.
    • 30.3: Bohr’s Theory of the Hydrogen Atom
      The planetary model of the atom pictures electrons orbiting the nucleus in the way that planets orbit the sun. Bohr used the planetary model to develop the first reasonable theory of hydrogen, the simplest atom. Atomic and molecular spectra are quantized, with hydrogen spectrum wavelengths.
    • 30.4: X Rays- Atomic Origins and Applications
      Each type of atom (or element) has its own characteristic electromagnetic spectrum. X rays lie at the high-frequency end of an atom’s spectrum and are characteristic of the atom as well. In this section, we explore characteristic x rays and some of their important applications.
    • 30.5: Applications of Atomic Excitations and De-Excitations
      Many properties of matter and phenomena in nature are directly related to atomic energy levels and their associated excitations and de-excitations. The color of a rose, the output of a laser, and the transparency of air are but a few examples. While it may not appear that glow-in-the-dark pajamas and lasers have much in common, they are in fact different applications of similar atomic de-excitations.
    • 30.6: The Wave Nature of Matter Causes Quantization
      Why is angular momentum quantized? You already know the answer. Electrons have wave-like properties, as de Broglie later proposed. They can exist only where they interfere constructively, and only certain orbits meet proper conditions, as we shall see in the next module. Following Bohr’s initial work on the hydrogen atom, a decade was to pass before de Broglie proposed that matter has wave properties.
    • 30.7: Patterns in Spectra Reveal More Quantization
      High-resolution measurements of atomic and molecular spectra show that the spectral lines are even more complex than they first appear. In this section, we will see that this complexity has yielded important new information about electrons and their orbits in atoms.
    • 30.8: Quantum Numbers and Rules
      hysical characteristics that are quantized -- such as energy, charge, and angular momentum -- are of such importance that names and symbols are given to them. The values of quantized entities are expressed in terms of quantum numbers , and the rules governing them are of the utmost importance in determining what nature is and does. This section covers some of the more important quantum numbers and rules.
    • 30.9: The Pauli Exclusion Principle
      The state of a system is completely described by a complete set of quantum numbers. This set is written as (n, l, ml, ms). The Pauli exclusion principle says that no two electrons can have the same set of quantum numbers; that is, no two electrons can be in the same state. This exclusion limits the number of electrons in atomic shells and subshells. Each value of n corresponds to a shell, and each value of l corresponds to a subshell.
    • 30.E: Atomic Physics (Exercises)

    Thumbnail: In the Bohr model, the transition of an electron with n=3 to the shell n=2 is shown, where a photon is emitted. An electron from shell (n=2) must have been removed beforehand by ionization. Image used with permission (CC-SA-BY-3.0; JabberWok).


    • Paul Peter Urone (Professor Emeritus at California State University, Sacramento) and Roger Hinrichs (State University of New York, College at Oswego) with Contributing Authors: Kim Dirks (University of Auckland) and Manjula Sharma (University of Sydney). This work is licensed by OpenStax University Physics under a Creative Commons Attribution License (by 4.0).