• Question: What makes the electrons go round the atom?

    Asked by 473fasp47 to Stewart, Miriam, Laura, David on 16 Nov 2018.
    • Photo: David Ho

      David Ho answered on 16 Nov 2018:

      The short answer is that there’s an electric force between the protons in the atom and the electron — they have opposite charges so they are attracted to each other.

      But actually it’s a lot more complicated than simply orbiting like planets round the sun — in fact you can think of an electron in an atom as more like a cloud in some ways! We can’t really say the electron is in one place due to the rules of quantum mechanics that make it behave more like a wave over really short distances.

      Here are some diagrams of what an electron looks like in an atom!

    • Photo: Laura Kent

      Laura Kent answered on 16 Nov 2018:

      That’s a great question! I’m glad David answered!

      There’s a model of an electron which shows it as both a particle and a wave which is why it is often represented as a cloud. The negative charge of the electron is attracted to the positive charge of the protons.

    • Photo: Miriam Hogg

      Miriam Hogg answered on 16 Nov 2018:

      An electron is negatively charged and the atom nucleus (the middle) is positively charged so the two are attracted to each other. However its a bit of a weird situation because electrons can only go round the atom at very specific distances based on their energy (due to the fact that the particle also has a wave characteristic). So they are trapped at that distance unless they lose or gain energy. Gaining energy means they can go further away from the atom and losing energy moves them closer. (if given enough energy the electron can leave the atoms orbit entirely). So they orbit because of the energy they have but they cant change their orbit unless they lose or gain energy (This normally happens by some outside force, the atoms will be stable for billions of years without any interference.)