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Visualization of Atomic Orbitals

s Orbitals

As you observed in earlier exercises, s orbitals are spherically symmetric. While all s orbitals have l = m = 0, the value of n can vary. What is the effect of n on the properties of an s orbital?


At certain points the wave function, y, equals zero. At such points there is a zero probability of interacting with the electron. A collection of points where y = 0 create a nodal surface, which can have several different geoometries.

The wave function can be either positive or negative. On one side of a nodal surface the wave function is positive; on the opposite side the wave function is negative. The sign of the wave function is important when one attempts to superimpose wave functions.


Three different representations for an orbital are shown below: Radial Distribution Plot, Electron Density Plot, and Virtual Reality Isosurface Plot.

Examine the shape and structure of s orbitals for various principal quantum numbers and answer the following questions. In the electron density and isosurface plots, the green color corresponds with regions where y > 0 and the red color corresponds with regions where y < 0. For orbitals with multiple regions (two regions being separated by a nodal surface), the individual wave function regions can be selectively removed from the isosurface plot.

  1. What is the shape of the nodal surface for s orbitals?
  2. For a given value of n, how many nodal surfaces are present?
  3. For orbitals with multiple regions (one or more nodal surfaces), in which region is the electron most likely to be found?



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