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12.2: Bohr Model of the Hydrogen Atom

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    With the use of spectroscopy in the late 19th century, it was found that the radiation from hydrogen, as well as other atoms, was emitted at specific quantized frequencies. It was the effort to explain this radiation that led to the first successful quantum theory of atomic structure, developed by Niels Bohr in 1913. He developed his theory of the hydrogenic (one-electron) atom from four postulates:

    1. An electron in an atom moves in a circular orbit about the nucleus under the influence of the Coulomb attraction between the electron and the nucleus, obeying the laws of classical mechanics.
    2. Instead of the infinity of orbits which would be possible in classical mechanics, it is only possible for an electron to move in an orbit for which its orbital angular momentum L is and integral multiple of \(\hbar\).
    3. Despite the fact that it is constantly accelerating, an electron moving in such an allowed orbit does not radiate electromagnetic energy. Thus, its total energy \(E\) remains constant.
    4. Electromagnetic radiation is emitted if an electron, initially moving in an orbit of total energy \(E_i\), discontinuously changes its motion so that it moves in an orbit of total energy \(E_f\). The frequency of the emitted radiation \(\nu\) is equal to the quantity \(E_i-E_f\) divided by \(h\). [2]

    The third postulate can be written mathematically


    For an electron moving in a stable circular orbit around a nucleus, Newton's second law reads


    where \(v\) is the electron speed, and r the radius of the orbit. Since the force is central, angular momentum should be conserved and is given by

    \[ L = | r \times p| = mvr.\]

    Hence from the quantization condition of Equation 7,

    \[ mvr = n\hbar \label{9}\]

    Equations \(\ref{8}\) and \(\ref{9}\) therefore give two equations in the two unknowns \(r\) and \(v\). These are easily solved to yield




    is a dimensionless number known as the fine-structure constant for reasons to be discussed later. Hence \(\alpha c\) is the speed of the electron in the Bohr model for the hydrogen atom (Z=1) in the ground state (n=1). Since this is the maximum speed for the electron in the hydrogen atom, and hence tex2html_wrap_inline1284 for all n, the use of the classical kinetic energy seems appropriate. From Equation \(\ref{8}\), one can then write the kinetic energy,


    and hence the total energy,gif


    Having solved for r as equation 10, one can then write


    Numerically, the energy levels for a hydrogenic atom are


    One correction to this analysis is easy to implement, that of the finite mass of the nucleus. The implicit assumption previously was that the electron moved around the nucleus, which remained stationary due to being infinitely more massive than the electron. In reality, however, the nucleus has some finite mass M, and hence the electron and nucleus both move, orbiting about the center of mass of the system. It is a relatively simple exercise in classical mechanics to show one can transform into the rest frame of the nucleus, in which frame the physics remains the same except for the fact that the electron acts as though it has a mass

    \[\mu = \dfrac{mM}{m+M} \label{17}\]

    which is less than m and is therefore called the reduced mass. One can therefore use tex2html_wrap_inline1296 in all equations where m appears in this analysis and get more accurate results. With this correction to the hydrogen energy levels, along with the fourth Bohr postulate which gives the radiative frequencies in terms of the energy levels, the Bohr model correctly predicts the observed spectrum of hydrogen to within three parts in \(10^5}\).

    Along with this excellent agreement with observation, the Bohr theory has an appealing esthetic feature. One can write the angular momentum quantization condition as

    \[ L =pr n\dfrac{h}{2 \pi} \label{18}\]

    where \(p\) is the linear momentum of the electron. Louis de Broglie's theory of matter waves predicts the relationship tex2html_wrap_inline1304 between momentum and wavelength, so

    \[ 2\pi r =n \lambda \label{19}\]

    That is, the circumference of the circular Bohr orbit is an integral number of de Broglie wavelengths. This provided the Bohr theory with a solid physical connection to previously developed quantum mechanics.

    Contributors and Attributions

    • Randal Telfer (JWST Astronomical Optics Scientist, Space Telescope Science Institute)

    This page titled 12.2: Bohr Model of the Hydrogen Atom is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Niels Walet via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.