Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Atomic Shapes
Name: Mark
Status: student
Grade: 4-5
Location: CA
Country: N/A
Date: November 2006

Question:
Can atoms come in different shapes?



Replies:
The shape an atom takes up is actually very important in chemistry. An atom is made up of a small core, called a nucleus (with protons and neutrons), and electrons, which are found outside of the nucleus. Scientists have come up with models to describe where the electrons can be found (you cannot know exactly where the electrons will be, so you can only say where they are most likely to be, this is known as the uncertainty principle), and these are called orbitals. As an atom gets more and more electrons, they have to fit into different orbitals. The shapes of these orbitals varies, here is a good link that talks about the shapes of atomic orbitals:

http://library.thinkquest.org/3659/structures/shapes.html

When you add up all the orbitals the general shape of the atom is still round, but the fact that different electrons live in different shaped orbitals is actually very important when thinking about how atoms can be put together by bonds.

Hope that helps,

Ethan Greenblatt
Stanford Department of Chemistry



Click here to return to the Chemistry Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory