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Name: Algirdas
Status: educator
Grade: 9-12
Location: OH
Country: N/A
Date: August 2006

Question:
I would like a good analogy that high school chemistry students can visualize as to why electrons seek the lowest energy level. Can this analogy be applied to the octet rule of thumb?



Replies:
Algirdas,

I know that you know that electrons do not really "seek" anything. We all are guilty of such anthropomorphization. However, I find that when I begin by trying to avoid such euphemisms, that when I flat out tell my students that whenever we look at nature we find that all things are in their lowest energy state -given their particular energy, and that the so-called laws of nature are nothing more than a statement of what we observe to be always true under the prescribed parameters, then I find that there is no need for a metaphor (which can lead to other misconceptions that are embedded in an imperfect metaphor).

Try this, challenge your students to find anything that is not at its lowest energy state given the given parameters. Whether it is water that has turned into steam because of heat, balls that bounce down the stairs, balloons that fly up but only up to a certain height, marbles that pack as densely as possible in a box when shaken, all these things are observed to be at their lowest state given their energy. One might even say that the state they are in is a reflection of their energy content.

Greg (Roberto Gregorius)



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