- This article is about orbital (electron) energy levels. For compounds' energy levels, see chemical potential.
A quantum mechanical system can only be in certain states, so that only certain energy levels are possible. The term energy level is most commonly used in reference to the electron configuration in atoms or molecules. In other words, the energy spectrum can be quantized (see continuous spectrum for the more general case).
As with classical potentials, the potential energy is usually set at zero to infinity, leading to a negative potential energy for bound electron states.
The following sections of this article gives an overview over the most important factors that determine the energy levels of atoms and molecules.
Intrinsic energy levels
Orbital state energy level
Assume an electron in a given atomic orbital. The energy of its state is mainly determined by the electrostatic interaction of the (negative) electron with the (positive) nucleus. The energy levels of an electron around a nucleus are given by:
where is the Rydberg constant (typically between 1 eV and 103 eV), Q is the charge of the atom's nucleus, is the principal quantum number, e is the charge of the electron, is Planck's constant, and c is the speed of light.
The Rydberg levels depend only on the principal quantum number .
Fine structure splitting
Fine structure arises from relativistic kinetic energy corrections, spin-orbit coupling (an electrodynamic interaction between the electron's spin and motion and the nucleus's electric field) and the Darwin term (contact term interaction of s-shell electrons inside the nucleus). Typical magnitude eV.
Spin-nuclear-spin coupling (see hyperfine structure). Typical magnitude eV.
Electrostatic interaction of an electron with other electrons
If there is more than one electron around the atom, electron-electron-interactions raise the energy level. These interactions are often neglected if the spatial overlap of the electron wavefunctions is low.
Energy levels due to external fields
The interaction energy is: with
Zeeman effect taking spin into account
This takes both the magnetic dipole moment due to the orbital angular momentum and the magnetic momentum arising from the electron spin into account.
Due to relativistic effects (Dirac equation), the magnetic moment arising from the electron spin is with the gyro-magnetic factor (about 2). The interaction energy therefore gets .
Interaction with an external electric field (see Stark effect).
For strong magnetic fields, the quantum numbers are not "good" any more and the Zeeman splitting does not give a correct description of the energy levels. This is known as the Paschen-Back effect.
The molecular energy levels are labelled by the molecular term symbols.
The specific energies of these components vary with the specific energy state and the substance.
Crystalline materials are often characterized by a number of important energy levels. The most important ones are the top of the valence band, the bottom of the conduction band, the Fermi energy, the vacuum level, and the energy levels of any defect states in the crystals.
- Atomic Orbital
- Electron configuration
- Perturbation theory (quantum mechanics)
- Computational chemistry
- Potential energy surface
- Molecular term symbol
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