Electron Configuration Applications
Date: July 2006
I am teaching some students about the electron
configurations of elements (1s, 2s, etc.). They are doing a fine
job, but my question is, what is the practical purpose of learning
about electron configurations? Are they helpful to a chemist in
his or her daily work?
I do not know if a practicing chemist routinely returns to electron
configuration. In my own experience electron configuration is just a
nice short-hand way of expressing the more difficult concepts of the
Schrodinger model of the atom. For me, it is more of a
language/communication/jargon tool then an actual analytical tool.
However, I would say that the learning of electron configuration is
a necessary foundational tool in learning the higher concepts of chemistry.
If you get a feeling that your students are simply learning electron
configuration by rote, you might want to show them how knowledge of
electron configuration makes the writing of Lewis Dot Structures,
ionic bonds (and the number of electrons exchanged), deciding if an
atom is more likely to form a cation or an anion, how many electrons
are likely to be lost or gained in the formation of ions, etc. This
way, the electron configuration becomes a tool for higher learning.
Greg (Roberto Gregorius)
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Update: June 2012