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 

Heavy Element Mystery

Heavy Element Mystery - Gold

One of the most interesting questions about creation is how elements are produced. Simply saying that “God did it” is not the answer. The question we are asking is HOW God did it. A particular challenge to science has been the heavy element mystery.

We understand and can duplicate the production of light elements by the process of nuclear fusion. Hydrogen nuclei can be fused to produce helium, and we see this process as it takes place in the Sun. We can duplicate the process in the hydrogen bomb. As we study the stars, we see other elements produced in stellar processes. When supernova 1987A exploded, scientists saw neon being produced, which is far beyond anything we can do. In theory, the first 26 elements in the periodic chart could be produced by what we see happening in stars.

The heavy element mystery is how elements heavier than iron are produced. For example, how do you make gold? The old alchemists tried in vain to make it by reactions in the laboratory, but we have not seen it being produced even in supernovas. The number of protons present in gold is over three times the number of protons in iron. The amount of energy required to make an atom of gold by nuclear fusion is beyond our comprehension.

In 2017, scientists observed two neutron stars colliding and producing elements heavier than iron. But what would it take to produce uranium with 92 protons and a weight 238 times heavier than hydrogen? That remains a real heavy element mystery. We are not suggesting a “god of the gaps” explanation. In the distant future, science may find an answer, but what it testifies to is the incredible power we see in the cosmos and the design that allows us to have the gold, silver, platinum, and radioactive materials we use.

The heavy element mystery reminds us of how puny and small we are in the context of creation. We have an even better understanding of our insignificance than did the author of Psalms 8:3-4 who wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have ordained; what is man, that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him.”

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Click THIS LINK to read a Science News report on a current theory scientists have about the origin of gold.