I heard that an electron moving in a certain orbital is actually perpetual mobile - is this true?
Asked by: Tony
Yes, and no, and maybe. The real problem here is
that at the subatomic scales, the behaviour of
matter does not resemble our daily experience at
all. As Feynman (?) said, if we keep picturing
electrons as little steel balls, we're always going
to have trouble understanding what is happening
at the quantum level.
In the current understanding of the atom, an orbital
is not something like the orbit of a planet around the
sun. It is a probability distribution in space. And,
the electron can not be said to be really 'moving' --
an orbital is a stationary state.
There is a very good example for this. The ground state
of a hydrogen atom is actually spherically symmetrical.
And (therefore) it has zero angular momentum. Which,
if we try to interpret in classical terms, means that
the electron only ever moves radially -- in and out....
But yet it covers the whole angular range. So in fact
it defies 'steel ball' or 'classical' interpretations.
So, it is not good sense to interpret the state of an
electron in a stationary orbital as perpetual motion.
However, people still like to imagine electrons as little
steel marbles orbiting around tennis-ball nuclei, like
in the Bohr model of the atom (which, while incorrect,
is a very useful model) and tend to think of it as
perpetual motion. If I wanted to see perpetual motion,
I'd look at the planets going around the sun. Which, by
the way is not really perpetual motion either - but
comparing with the human lifespan, it is good enough
for all practical purposes.
Answered by: Yasar Safkan, Ph.D. M.I.T., Software Engineer, Istanbul, Turkey
'Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the grander view?'