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Physics/Schrödinger equation/Wave functions and relationship to orbitals


Hi Dr.Raymond,

I am in a first year undergraduate chem course learning about atomic structure and I don't quite get Schrödinger equation.

Can you explain the Schrödinger equation to me in simple/layman terms.

In addition, I also don quite get how the Schrödinger equation relates to wave function.

I searched on the internet and I found out that the wave function describes the position/energy of an electron which confuses me.

Can you explain in simple layman terms what the wave function is and how does it relate to atom orbitals. As I know each orbital have their own wave function.

Many Many Thanks,

Dear Sam:

First, try reading this blog post at by Paul Mealing.  He does a pretty good job of it.

Your question about the relationship between the wave function and the equation is confusing as the allowed wave functions are solutions to the equation.

Regarding your second question, the wavefunctions in a molecule (or even just an atom) represent the configurations and energies which electrons can hold in the system they occupy.  The lowest energy wavefunctions have configurations that you are already familiar with: stable bonds and lone pairs in molecules.  However, higher energy wavefunctions are allowed (from the SE) at set energies.  We typically call theses energy levels or orbitals.  Because these energy levels are set, and they have set differences in energy between them, we call the wavefunctions quantized. The energy between the low energy, stable wavefunctions that define bonds and higher energy states is something we can probe directly - we use ultraviolet-visible absorption spectroscopy (UV-Vis).  By observing what wavelengths of light get absorbed, and knowing that the energy levels are quantized, we then know that the absorbed light is being absorbed to excite a lower energy wavefunction into a higher level one.  We then deduce that the energy of the light absorbed must be equal to the difference in the energy between the two wavefunctions.

Send a follow up if you need more assistance.

Take care!  


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Dr. Jeffery Raymond


Materials chemistry. Materials science. Spectroscopy. Polymer science. Physical Chemistry. General Physics. Technical writing. General Applied Mathematics. Nanomaterials. Optoelectronic Behavior. Science Policy.


Teaching: General Inorganic Chemistry I & II, Organic Chemistry I & II, Physical Chemistry I, Polymeric Materials, General Physics I, Calculus I & II
My prior experience includes the United States Army and three years as a development chemist in industry. Currently I am the Assistant Director of the Laboratory for Synthetic Biological Interactions. All told, 13 years of experience in research, development and science education.

Texas A&M University, American Chemical Society, POLY-ACS, SPIE

Journal of the American Chemical Society, Nanoletters, Journal of Physical Chemistry C, Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, Ultramicroscopy Proceedings of SPIE, Proceedings of MRS, Polymer News, Chemical and Engineering News, Nano Letters, Small,, Angewandte

PhD Macromolecular Science and Engineering (Photophysics/Nanomaterials Concentration), MS Materials Science, BS Chemistry and Physics, Graduate Certificate in Science Policy, AAS Chemical Technology, AAS Engineering Technology

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