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Name: Robert
Status: educator
Grade: 6-8
Location: SC
Country: N/A
Date: July 2006

Question:
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?



Replies:
Robert,

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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