Electrons in Lowest Energy State
Date: August 2006
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?
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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