Question of the Week Podcast

Question of the Week episode

Mon, 6th Jan 2014

Why don't electrons fall into the atomic nucleus?

Scheme of an atom (c) Emichan @ Wikipedia

Why don't electrons fall into the centres of atoms?

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In this edition of Question of the Week


  • Scheme of an atom (c) Emichan @ Wikipedia

    Do electrons perpetually spin around atoms?

    Hi Chris, always wondered how come an electron seems to "perpetually" spin around a nucleus? What forces are involved and how come friction doesn't play a part etc etc? with thanks john from greensborough, Victoria Australia



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because centrifugal and centripetal forces balances each other............ alexalok, Tue, 7th Jan 2014

Sadly, no. An accelerating charge radiates electromagnetic energy and would therefore spiral in to the nucleus. This is the fundamental problem with the Bohr model of the atom, and the reason why we have replaced  the notion of orbiting electrons with "orbitals" - effectively, maps of the probability of finding an electron at any point in space. alancalverd, Tue, 7th Jan 2014

More exactly, an accelerating irregularity in the charge distribution radiates.  A spinning electrically charged disk does not radiate.  This is significant in re. electron motions in atoms, because the quantum states corresponding to definite energies have, for single atoms, circularly symmetric distribution patterns, and for molecules, the patterns are often asymmetric but still time-independent. Effectively there is a stationary probability distribution even though the electrons do have kinetic energy. Atomic-S, Wed, 8th Jan 2014

There is one rare instance where an electron does end up in the nucleus: a radioactive decay process called "electron capture".

In this scenario, an electron finds itself inside a large, unstable nucleus (with very low probability). The electron combines with a proton, producing a neutron and emitting a neutrino. Since the atom now has a different number of protons & electrons, this changes the atom into a different element.

evan_au, Wed, 8th Jan 2014

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