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Name: Unknown
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Date: Around 1993


Question:
s it true that the exact nature of electrons inside the atom is not yet known? If this is true, why are students in physics and chemistry continually shown the model of the atom that depicts electrons as discrete particles orbiting at various distances from a nucleus without even being told that this model is completely incorrect?



Replies:
A lot about electrons in atoms is known very well. We know that electrons are point particles that have a charge, a mass, and an intrinsic spin. We know the equations that specify the probability of our finding the electrons if we were to look for them. We know the energies that the electrons will have in those states. We cannot find the electrons position exactly because they are so light that any probe we would use would disrupt them and destroy our knowledge about where they were. That means that we must use quantum mechanics which only allows us to find out where it is likely to find the electrons. Measurements of these probabilities (wave functions) and energies have been confirmed to great accuracy for simple systems where we can do the calculations can be done exactly. For more complex systems, we cannot carry out the calculations quite as accurately, but the results we get are very accurate and let us make many predictions. We know a lot. The pictures students see often make it look like we can determine where the particles are when we cannot, but we can determine the energy and wave function so well that we really know about all that we can know about such small particles.

Sam Bowen



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