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You covered it earlier - chemistry is electron sharing. There's not a lot else going on.

'Proper' chemistry needs the wave/particle stuff because it explains why electrons in atoms do what they do - e.g. why is there are a pattern in the maximum number of electrons in the outer shell of each element?

But you can do all of GCSE chemistry without worrying about that, and just counting the number of available electrons and how they're being shared.

I have a rather metaphysical approach to the wave particle stuff which not everyone shares, and which could be completely wrong - no one really knows what's really happening under the wave particle, so there are all kinds of interpretations.

The traditional old-physics approach is to think of electrons like very, very small billiard balls which happen to have an electric charge.

The more metaphysical approach is to think of electrons as areas in space in which something might happen, and which - randomly - does.

This is for a hydrogen atom. The red and blue areas show where electron-like things are most likely to happen as the electrons hold more energy.

This is useful because if you think in terms of fields - they're called orbitals in chemistry - you don't just get the basic electron counting chemistry of

2H20 -> 2H2 + O2

but also tells you what shapes atoms are going to make as they join up. With the wave/particle stuff you can calculate the geometry, size and shape of molecules. E.g. for water:

As I said, this is not needed for GCSE. But for physics it seems to be more useful to ask what things do and how they behave than what they are.

No one knows what an electron is. It may turn out to be a kind of vibrating membrane, like a small and very weirdly shaped bell in space which rings when certain things happen to it.

Or it could be something else entirely.

Because we don't know, all we can do is look at how electrons behave. And because what electrons do seems to spread out in a way that small billiard balls don't, understanding how the spreading works is useful.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Mar 22nd, 2008 at 06:44:22 PM EST
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