Atomic physics

Atomic physics

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Atomic physics is the field of physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 that studies atoms as an isolated system of electron
Electron
The electron is a subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton...

s and an atomic nucleus. It is primarily concerned with the arrangement of electrons around the nucleus
Electron configuration
In atomic physics and quantum chemistry, electron configuration is the arrangement of electrons of an atom, a molecule, or other physical structure...

 and
the processes by which these arrangements change. This includes ions as well as neutral atoms and, unless otherwise stated, for the purposes of this discussion it should be assumed that the term atom includes ions.

The term atomic physics is often associated with nuclear power
Nuclear power
Nuclear power is the use of sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity. Nuclear power plants provide about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for about 50% of nuclear generated electricity...

 and nuclear bombs, due to the synonym
Synonym
Synonyms are different words with almost identical or similar meanings. Words that are synonyms are said to be synonymous, and the state of being a synonym is called synonymy. The word comes from Ancient Greek syn and onoma . The words car and automobile are synonyms...

ous use of atomic and nuclear in standard English
Standard English
Standard English refers to whatever form of the English language is accepted as a national norm in an Anglophone country...

. However, physicists distinguish between atomic physics — which deals with the atom as a system consisting of a nucleus and electrons — and nuclear physics
Nuclear physics
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the building blocks and interactions of atomic nuclei. The most commonly known applications of nuclear physics are nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons technology, but the research has provided application in many fields, including those...

, which considers atomic nuclei
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 alone.

As with many scientific fields, strict delineation can be highly contrived and atomic physics is often considered in the wider context of atomic, molecular, and optical physics
Atomic, molecular, and optical physics
Atomic, molecular, and optical physics is the study of matter-matter and light-matter interactions on the scale of single atoms or structures containing a few atoms. The three areas are grouped together because of their interrelationships, the similarity of methods used, and the commonality of the...

. Physics research groups are usually so classified.

Isolated atoms


Atomic physics always considers atoms in isolation. Atomic models will consist of a single nucleus which may be surrounded by one or more bound electrons. It is not concerned with the formation of molecule
Molecule
A molecule is an electrically neutral group of at least two atoms held together by covalent chemical bonds. Molecules are distinguished from ions by their electrical charge...

s (although much of the physics is identical) nor does it examine atoms in a solid state as condensed matter
Condensed Matter
Condensed matter may refer to several things*Condensed matter physics, the study of the physical properties of condensed phases of matter*European Physical Journal B: Condensed Matter and Complex Systems, a scientific journal published by EDP sciences...

. It is concerned with processes such as ionization
Ionization
Ionization is the process of converting an atom or molecule into an ion by adding or removing charged particles such as electrons or other ions. This is often confused with dissociation. A substance may dissociate without necessarily producing ions. As an example, the molecules of table sugar...

 and excitation
Excited state
Excitation is an elevation in energy level above an arbitrary baseline energy state. In physics there is a specific technical definition for energy level which is often associated with an atom being excited to an excited state....

 by photons or collisions with atomic particles.

While modelling atoms in isolation may not seem realistic, if one considers atoms in a gas
Gas
Gas is one of the three classical states of matter . Near absolute zero, a substance exists as a solid. As heat is added to this substance it melts into a liquid at its melting point , boils into a gas at its boiling point, and if heated high enough would enter a plasma state in which the electrons...

 or plasma
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

 then the time-scales for atom-atom interactions are huge in comparison to the atomic processes that we are concerned with. This means that the individual atoms can be treated as if each were in isolation because for the vast majority of the time they are. By this consideration atomic physics provides the underlying theory in plasma physics
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

 and atmospheric physics
Atmospheric physics
Atmospheric physics is the application of physics to the study of the atmosphere. Atmospheric physicists attempt to model Earth's atmosphere and the atmospheres of the other planets using fluid flow equations, chemical models, radiation balancing, and energy transfer processes in the atmosphere...


even though both deal with huge numbers of atoms.

Electronic configuration


Electrons form notional shells around the nucleus. These are naturally in a ground state
Ground state
The ground state of a quantum mechanical system is its lowest-energy state; the energy of the ground state is known as the zero-point energy of the system. An excited state is any state with energy greater than the ground state...

 but can be excited
by the absorption of energy from light (photon
Photon
In physics, a photon is an elementary particle, the quantum of the electromagnetic interaction and the basic unit of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is also the force carrier for the electromagnetic force...

s), magnetic fields, or interaction with a colliding particle (typically other electrons).

Electrons that populate a shell are said to be in a bound state
Bound state
In physics, a bound state describes a system where a particle is subject to a potential such that the particle has a tendency to remain localised in one or more regions of space...

. The energy necessary to remove an electron from its shell (taking it to infinity) is called the binding energy
Binding energy
Binding energy is the mechanical energy required to disassemble a whole into separate parts. A bound system typically has a lower potential energy than its constituent parts; this is what keeps the system together—often this means that energy is released upon the creation of a bound state...

. Any quantity of energy absorbed by the electron in excess of this amount is converted to kinetic energy
Kinetic energy
The kinetic energy of an object is the energy which it possesses due to its motion.It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes...

 according to the conservation of energy
Conservation of energy
The nineteenth century law of conservation of energy is a law of physics. It states that the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant over time. The total energy is said to be conserved over time...

. The atom is said to have undergone the process of ionization
Ionization
Ionization is the process of converting an atom or molecule into an ion by adding or removing charged particles such as electrons or other ions. This is often confused with dissociation. A substance may dissociate without necessarily producing ions. As an example, the molecules of table sugar...

.

In the event the electron absorbs a quantity of energy less than the binding energy, it will transition to an excited state
Excited state
Excitation is an elevation in energy level above an arbitrary baseline energy state. In physics there is a specific technical definition for energy level which is often associated with an atom being excited to an excited state....

. After a statistically sufficient quantity of time, an electron in an excited state will undergo a transition to a lower state. The change in energy between the two energy levels must be accounted for (conservation of energy). In a neutral atom, the system will emit a photon of the difference in energy. However, if the excited atom has been previously ionized, particularly if one of its inner shell electrons has been removed, a phenomenon known as the Auger effect may take place where the quantity of energy is transferred to one of the bound electrons causing it to go into the continuum. This allows one to multiply ionize an atom with a single photon.

There are rather strict selection rules as to the electronic configurations that can be reached by excitation by light—however there are no such rules for excitation by collision processes.

History and developments


The majority of fields in physics can be divided between theoretical work and experimental work,
and atomic physics is no exception. It is usually the case, but not always, that progress goes
in alternate cycles from an experimental observation, through to a theoretical explanation
followed by some predictions which may or may not be confirmed by experiment, and so on. Of course, the current state of technology at any given time can put limitations on what can be achieved experimentally and theoretically so it may take considerable time for theory to be refined.
One of the earliest steps towards atomic physics was the recognition that matter was composed
of atoms, in the modern sense of the basic unit of a chemical element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

. This theory was developed by the British chemist and physicist John Dalton
John Dalton
John Dalton FRS was an English chemist, meteorologist and physicist. He is best known for his pioneering work in the development of modern atomic theory, and his research into colour blindness .-Early life:John Dalton was born into a Quaker family at Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, Cumberland,...

 in the 18th century. At this stage, it wasn't clear what atoms were although they could be described and classified by their properties (in bulk) in a periodic table
Periodic table
The periodic table of the chemical elements is a tabular display of the 118 known chemical elements organized by selected properties of their atomic structures. Elements are presented by increasing atomic number, the number of protons in an atom's atomic nucleus...

.
The true beginning of atomic physics is marked by the discovery of spectral line
Spectral line
A spectral line is a dark or bright line in an otherwise uniform and continuous spectrum, resulting from a deficiency or excess of photons in a narrow frequency range, compared with the nearby frequencies.- Types of line spectra :...

s and attempts to describe the phenomenon, most notably by Joseph von Fraunhofer
Joseph von Fraunhofer
Joseph von Fraunhofer was a German optician. He is known for the discovery of the dark absorption lines known as Fraunhofer lines in the Sun's spectrum, and for making excellent optical glass and achromatic telescope objectives.-Biography:Fraunhofer was born in Straubing, Bavaria...

. The study of these lines led to the Bohr atom model and to the birth of quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

. In seeking to explain atomic spectra an entirely new mathematical model of matter was revealed. As far as atoms and their electron shells were concerned, not only did this yield a better overall description, i.e. the atomic orbital model, but it also provided a new theoretical basis for chemistry
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....


(quantum chemistry
Quantum chemistry
Quantum chemistry is a branch of chemistry whose primary focus is the application of quantum mechanics in physical models and experiments of chemical systems...

) and spectroscopy
Spectroscopy
Spectroscopy is the study of the interaction between matter and radiated energy. Historically, spectroscopy originated through the study of visible light dispersed according to its wavelength, e.g., by a prism. Later the concept was expanded greatly to comprise any interaction with radiative...

.

Since the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, both theoretical and experimental fields have advanced at a rapid pace. This can be attributed to progress in computing technology which has allowed larger and more sophisticated models of atomic structure and associated collision processes. Similar technological advances in accelerators, detectors, magnetic field generation and laser
Laser
A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of photons. The term "laser" originated as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation...

s have greatly assisted experimental work.

Significant atomic physicists



Pre quantum mechanics
  • John Dalton
    John Dalton
    John Dalton FRS was an English chemist, meteorologist and physicist. He is best known for his pioneering work in the development of modern atomic theory, and his research into colour blindness .-Early life:John Dalton was born into a Quaker family at Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, Cumberland,...

  • Joseph von Fraunhofer
    Joseph von Fraunhofer
    Joseph von Fraunhofer was a German optician. He is known for the discovery of the dark absorption lines known as Fraunhofer lines in the Sun's spectrum, and for making excellent optical glass and achromatic telescope objectives.-Biography:Fraunhofer was born in Straubing, Bavaria...

  • Johannes Rydberg
    Johannes Rydberg
    Johannes Robert Rydberg, , , was a Swedish physicist mainly known for devising the Rydberg formula, in 1888, which is used to predict the wavelengths of photons emitted by changes in the energy level of an electron in a hydrogen atom.The physical constant known as the...

  • J.J. Thomson


Post quantum mechanics
  • Alexander Dalgarno
    Alexander Dalgarno
    Alexander Dalgarno is a British physicist who is Phillips Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University.-Biography:He was educated in mathematics and atomic physics at University College, London. He was an academic at the Queen's University of Belfast and moved to Harvard in 1967...

  • David Bates
    David Bates (physicist)
    Sir David Robert Bates, FRS was an Irish mathematician and physicist.Born in Omagh, County Tyrone, Ireland, he moved to Belfast with his family in 1925, attending the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. He enrolled with the Queen's University of Belfast in 1934...

  • Niels Bohr
    Niels Bohr
    Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

  • Max Born
    Max Born
    Max Born was a German-born physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics. He also made contributions to solid-state physics and optics and supervised the work of a number of notable physicists in the 1920s and 30s...

  • Clinton Joseph Davisson
  • Enrico Fermi
    Enrico Fermi
    Enrico Fermi was an Italian-born, naturalized American physicist particularly known for his work on the development of the first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1, and for his contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, and statistical mechanics...

  • Charlotte Froese Fischer
    Charlotte Froese Fischer
    Acad. Prof. Dr. Charlotte Froese Fischer PhD is a Canadian-American applied mathematician and computer scientist who gained world recognition for the development and implementation of the Multi-configurational Hartree-Fock approach to atomic structure calculations and for her theoretical...

  • Vladimir Fock
    Vladimir Fock
    Vladimir Aleksandrovich Fock was a Soviet physicist, who did foundational work on quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics....


  • Douglas Hartree
    Douglas Hartree
    Douglas Rayner Hartree PhD, FRS was an English mathematician and physicist most famous for the development of numerical analysis and its application to the Hartree-Fock equations of atomic physics and the construction of the meccano differential analyser.-Early life:Douglas Hartree was born in...

  • Harrie S. Massey
    Harrie Massey
    Sir Harrie Stewart Wilson Massey FRS was an influential Australian mathematical physicist. He worked primarily in the fields of atomic and atmospheric physics.- Life and career :...

  • Nevill Mott
  • Mike Seaton
    M. J. Seaton
    Michael J. Seaton FRS was an influential British mathematician, atomic physicist and astronomer.He was born in Bristol, and educated at Wallington County Grammar School , a grammar school in Surrey, where he won prizes for his achievements in chemistry.From 1941 to 1946 he served in the wartime...

  • John C. Slater
    John C. Slater
    John Clarke Slater was a noted American physicist who made major contributions to the theory of the electronic structure of atoms, molecules and solids. This work is of ongoing importance in chemistry, as well as in many areas of physics. He also made major contributions to microwave electronics....

  • George Paget Thomson
    George Paget Thomson
    Sir George Paget Thomson, FRS was an English physicist and Nobel laureate in physics recognised for his discovery with Clinton Davisson of the wave properties of the electron by electron diffraction.-Biography:...

  • Ernest M. Henley
    Ernest M. Henley
    Dr. Ernest M. Henley is an American atomic and nuclear physicist.In 1944 Henley received a B.E.E. in Electrical Engineering from the City College of New York. He worked at the Airborne Instruments Laboratory as an electrical engineer from 1946 to 1948. Between 1948 and 1951 he worked at Stanford...



External links