Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and Complex Electron Orbitals

Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and Complex Electron Orbitals

Yesterday, we said that the simple atomic model shown in older chemistry textbooks leaves many mysteries unanswered. During my 50 years of teaching chemistry, students sometimes asked questions that could not be explained by electrons in circular orbits. In recent years, spectral analysis has shown that electrons travel in various orbital patterns that may be dumbbell or clover-leaf shaped. In addition, quantum mechanics has shown that electrons can act like waves rather than particles. Relativity, quantum mechanics, and complex electron orbitals explain some of the mysteries of chemistry.

For example, oxygen has a first shell with two s-type electrons traveling in circular orbits and four more in dumbbell-shaped p orbits. That second shell can hold six electrons, leaving openings for two more orbitals 90 degrees apart. If a hydrogen atom with one electron comes nearby, it will bond with the oxygen, each of them sharing an electron. If two hydrogens bond with the oxygen atom, you have a perfect, stable combination – a water molecule

In the water molecule, the hydrogen atoms repel each other, creating a 180-degree angle between them and giving the water an electrical polarity. The result is that water molecules have a positive and negative end, and as they freeze, they repel each other, expanding their volume. Because of that, ice is less dense and floats on top of the water instead of sinking to the bottom. If bodies of water froze from the bottom up, life on Earth would be impossible.

What makes this picture even more interesting is that electrons can orbit at a speed that is 60% of the speed of light or faster. At that speed, their mass increases, and their orbit contracts in conformity with Einstein’s relativity equations. Relativity, quantum mechanics, and complex electron orbitals combine to explain the mysteries of chemistry. For example, the relativity contraction makes it harder for mercury atoms to interact strongly with each other. As a result, mercury is a liquid, while other metals are solids at room temperature. 

Relativity and quantum mechanics also explain the difference in color between gold and silver. Relativistic effects in the electron orbitals cause silver to reflect all wavelengths of visible light equally. Because of that, it has no particular color. On the other hand, gold’s electron orbitals cause it to absorb blue light, making the reflected light appear yellow. 

Relativity, quantum mechanics, and complex electron orbitals are opening new understandings in chemistry, allowing new techniques to aid in improving life for all humans. For example, doctors use radioactive technetium and rhenium as tracer molecules in medical imaging because of the effects of relativity. Understanding relativity and electron orbitals explains the formation of lead dioxide, which is essential for lead-acid auto batteries. Relativity in electron orbitals even plays a role in “glow-in-the-dark” items such as signs, stickers, and T-shirts.

The complexity of atoms is a testimony to the intelligence and engineering of the Creator. We are continually reminded that we can know there is a God through the things He has made. The challenges and the future of relativistic chemistry are a great testimony to that. 

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: “Relativity and the World of Molecules” by Abhik Ghosh and Kenneth Ruud in American Scientist magazine for May/June 2023 

The Simple Atomic Model and Unanswered Questions

The Simple Atomic Model Leaves Unanswered Questions
This simple atomic model is not accurate

Our understanding of the design of the atom changed radically in the 50 years that I taught chemistry in public school. When I started teaching, scientists thought atoms were made up of a nucleus surrounded by electrons in circular orbits. This simple atomic model was easy to understand, and we had drawings and even plastic models to show it. However, the simple atomic model leaves unanswered questions. 

The simple model did not explain the properties of certain atoms. For example, why is mercury a liquid at room temperature while other metals, such as gold, platinum, and lead, are solids, even though they have very similar structures? Why are gold and silver different colors? Why does water expand when it gets colder when all other materials contract? 

As an old chemistry teacher, my students frequently asked questions I could not answer. Improvements in spectral analysis made the simple atomic model more complicated while answering some questions. For example, scientists could see that not all electrons travel in circular orbits. Also, electrons are not solid balls or even particles. Instead, electrons can be waves and have orbital paths that are spherical or shaped like dumbbells, clover leaves, or a mixture of those two. 

Different orbital shapes cause different spectral patterns. As a result, scientists have coined the names “s” for sharp spectral lines, “p” for principle lines, “d” for diffuse lines, or “f” for fundamental lines. Moving out from the nucleus of an atom, the number of electrons increases, and their paths become more complex. 

The more we learn, the more we see the wisdom built into the design of every atom in the universe. The precision of design makes it possible for life to exist. Minor changes would mean that we would not be here. However, the simple atomic model leaves unanswered questions and can’t begin to show the extent of God’s design wisdom. Applying what we know about relativity, quantum mechanics, and electron orbits answers some of the chemistry students’ difficult questions. We will have more on that tomorrow.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

Reference: “Relativity and the World of Molecules” by Abhik Ghosh and Kenneth Ruud in American Scientist magazine for May/June 2023 

Picking and Choosing Einstein

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

As an old physics teacher, I find it interesting to watch people on both sides of the argument about the existence of God pick and choose various parts of Einstein’s work to support their positions. Picking and choosing Einstein to prove your point is not an option.

Recently I had an atheist and a Christian dispensationalist both use Einstein’s time dilation equation to support their position. That equation says that your time in motion is determined by your time at rest divided by the square root of one minus your velocity (v) squared divided by the speed of light (c) squared.

This formula indicates that the higher the velocity of motion, the smaller the value of the denominator of that equation becomes. Therefore, time expands. This is a fact. Neutrons in nuclear accelerators might live 18 minutes at rest before decaying into protons and electrons. When accelerated to 80% of the speed of light, they last much longer before decaying.

My atheist friend maintains that since the cosmos is accelerating in its expansion, it will eventually reach the speed of light and time will stop. He then proposes that time will reverse since the value of the denominator in Einstein’s equation would become negative. He then suggests that this process will be repeated in an eternal universe. Therefore, no beginning and no God.

My dispensationalist friend is one of several authors who propose that the universe started out expanding at a much higher velocity with time passing at a different rate than we experience today. This would mean that the evidence for the cosmos being very old is an illusion. In the beginning, time passed more slowly because of the much higher velocity of expansion. Since we move more slowly today, time is passing faster. Therefore, the universe is much younger than it would appear.

Both of these people were picking and choosing Einstein to support a personal religious opinion. Both of them are ignoring much of Einstein’s work. When the neutron referred to earlier is accelerated to 80% of the speed of light, not only does its time frame change but its relativistic mass changes too. Another one of Einstein’s equations looks just like the time equation but deals with mass. The change in the relativistic mass of a particle is equal to its mass at rest divided by the square root of one minus its velocity squared divided by the speed of light squared.

Experimentally this calculation works and can be verified. Perhaps the most well-known equation of Issac Newton is F = MA. This tells us that the force (F) needed to accelerate a mass (M) is equal to its mass multiplied by the acceleration (A). We all know from experience that the greater the mass of an object, the harder it is to speed it up when we push it, and the faster we want it to go the harder we have to push. If the relativistic mass increases as you get near the speed of light, what happens to the force you have to exert? Obviously, It increases too. At the speed of light, you would have infinite mass, and it would take an infinite force to move it.

Another fascinating equation from Einstein is that the length of an object changes as it approaches the speed of light. In the reverse of the change in time and mass, the length contracts in the direction of motion as the object gets closer the speed of light. At the speed of light, the length would be zero, and the object would cease to exist.

These are simplifications of Einstein’s work, but the point is that picking and choosing Einstein to prove your point is not honest. Relativistic effects cannot be picked and chosen while ignoring other effects. God created the cosmos with certain constants and relationships. These choices allow us to exist, but they also put a limit on what is possible. We struggle to comprehend all that is involved in the simple phrase, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

–John N. Clayton © 2017