The electron cloud is a cloud of probability surrounding the nucleus in an atom where one has the highest probability of finding an electron.
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When you think of an atom, your mind probably conjuresupan image of acentral nucleus with a whole bunch of electrons revolving around it.That is the image we’ve seen in countless sci-fi shows, comic books and movies. That’s the image of an atom that we’ve had reinforced in ourbrainsall our lives.Eventhe comic book hero Atom decided to represent himself using this classical image of the atom.
A nucleus surrounded by an electron cloud of probability (Photo Credit : Media Whalestock/Shutterstock)
The electron has measurable kinetic energy andmomentum,but itdoesnot exhibit any semblance ofrevolution.The electronsimply surrounds the nucleus of the atom like a dense fog.However, let’s get one thing clear—the electron is not anelusive particle that we can seek out in thefog.It’s not a target that’s moving so fast that it looks like a blurrycloud. In fact, the electron is thecloud.
Does an Electron Cloud have mass?
We’ve established that an electron isn’t a perfect sphere revolving around the nucleus, but rather a dense cloudy region of probability. So, how can we ascertain its mass? Does an electron cloud even havemass? Science textbooks everywhere confidentlyillustrate in big bold fonts that an electronhas a mass of9.11 X 10–31kg. This is true.
This begs the question, though, doesthe entire cloud together weigh9.11 X 10–31kg?Yes. What about a part of the cloud? Can a part of the cloud have a mass that is less than the electron? Not really.
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Things get a bit foggier from here. Let’s say that you have a tiny spoon. You take that spoon and dip it into 25% of the electron cloud area. Does your spoon then contain a weight equal to 25% of 9.11 X 10–31kg? No. When your spoon holds 25% of the electron cloud, your spoon possesses a 25% chance of containingthe electron mass of9.11X 10–31kg. You can either possessthe whole electron or none of it. Despite it being represented by a cloud, it cannot be broken downintopartials, as the cloudisn’t physical. Acloudis merely the best way to illustratethe true state of an electron.
Of course, this has been a very simplified explanation of an electron cloud. The complex world of quantum mechanics mathematically represents the electron cloud as a quantum wave function governed by probabilities. However, such mathematics seems outside the purview of this piece. My objective here was merely to helpyou visualizethe “electron” for what it truly is.
So, the next time someone asks you to think of an atom, don’t conjure up that outdated, inaccurate image of electrons revolving around a central nucleus.Think of theelectroncloud instead!
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About the Author
Abhishek Kulkarni is an investment banker turned writer and standup comedian. After a graduate degree in business administration and a stint at Citigroup, Abhishek decided to give it all up to follow his passion for the creative arts. Presently he sits in an armchair indulging in whimsical thought, writing on topics that tempt his curiosity and moonlighting as a comic in the city of Bombay