Physics

Seeing Nodes

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Science  07 Jun 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6137, pp. 1143
DOI: 10.1126/science.340.6137.1143-c
CREDIT: ANETA SMOLKOWSKA AND MARC VRAKKING

A hundred years ago, Niels Bohr introduced the concept of discrete, or quantized, electronic energy levels in hydrogen atoms to account for the discrete lines in their optical spectra. Within a couple of decades, the model had been elaborated to establish the framework for quantum mechanics, with successive levels corresponding to spatial probability distributions of electronic wave functions manifesting a rising number of nodes. Since then, a vast and diverse array of physical and chemical phenomena has bolstered the validity of this framework. Yet visualization retains a special power to elucidate. Stodolna et al. have now directly projected the nodal pattern of a hydrogen atom's electronic wave function onto a detector. Theory had predicted that the preparation of Stark states, in a static electric field, would foster direct imaging upon ionization. The authors note that the addition of a magnetic field to the experimental setup could probe further intricacies of atomic electron dynamics.

Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 213001 (2013).

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