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Physics LibreTexts

8.0: Prelude to Atomic Structure

In this chapter, we use quantum mechanics to study the structure and properties of atoms. This study introduces ideas and concepts that are necessary to understand more complex systems, such as molecules, crystals, and metals. As we deepen our understanding of atoms, we build on things we already know, such as Rutherford’s nuclear model of the atom, Bohr’s model of the hydrogen atom, and de Broglie’s wave hypothesis.


Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): NGC1763 is an emission nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is a satellite galaxy to our Milky Way Galaxy. The colors we see can be explained by applying the ideas of quantum mechanics to atomic structure. (credit: NASA, ESA, and Josh Lake)

Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) is NGC1763, an emission nebula in the small galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud, which is a satellite of the Milky Way Galaxy. Ultraviolet light from hot stars ionizes the hydrogen atoms in the nebula. As protons and electrons recombine, radiation of different frequencies is emitted. The details of this process can be correctly predicted by quantum mechanics and are examined in this chapter.


  • Samuel J. Ling (Truman State University), Jeff Sanny (Loyola Marymount University), and Bill Moebs with many contributing authors. This work is licensed by OpenStax University Physics under a Creative Commons Attribution License (by 4.0).