"School of Athens" Fresco in Apostol...

School of Athens” Fresco in Apostolic Palace, Rome, Vatican City, by Raphael 1509 – 1510 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



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    1912 – England

    X-rays scattered from a crystal will show constructive interference provided their wavelength ( λ ) fits the equation

    2d sin θ = n λ 

    where d is the spacing between atoms of the crystal, θ the angle through which the rays have scattered and n is any whole number

    This is the cornerstone of the science of X-ray crystallography.

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    Symmetrically spaced atoms cause re-radiated X...

    Symmetrically spaced atoms cause re-radiated X-rays to reinforce each other in the specific directions where their path-length difference, 2d sin θ, equals an integer multiple of the wavelength λ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    NIELS BOHR (1885-1962)

    1913 – Denmark

    ‘Electrons in atoms are restricted to certain orbits but they can move from one orbit to another’

    Bohr’s was the first quantum model for the internal structure of the atom.

    Bohr worked with RUTHERFORD in Manchester and improved upon Rutherford’s model, which said that electrons were free to orbit the nucleus at random.

    Classical physics insisted that electrons moving around the nucleus would eventually expire and collapse into the nucleus as they radiated energy. Bohr resolved the issue surrounding Rutherford’s atomic structure by applying the concept of quantum physics set out by MAX PLANCK in 1900.
    He suggested that the electrons would have to exist in one of a number of specific orbits, each being defined by specific levels of energy. From the perspective of quantum theory, electrons only existed in these fixed orbits where they did not radiate energy. The electrons could move to higher-level orbits if energy was added, or fall to lower ones if they gave out energy. The innermost orbit contains up to two electrons. The next may contain up to eight electrons. If an inner orbit is not full, an electron from an outer orbit can jump into it. Energy is released as light (a photon) when this happens. The energy that is released is a fixed amount, a quantum.

    Quanta of radiation would only ever be emitted as an atom made the transition between states and released energy. Electrons could not exist in between these definite steps. This quantised theory of the electrons’ orbits had the benefits of explaining why atoms always emitted or absorbed specific frequencies of electromagnetic radiation and of providing an understanding of why atoms are stable.

    Bohr calculated the amount of radiation emitted during these transitions using Planck’s constant. It fitted physical observations and made sense of the spectral lines of a hydrogen atom, observed when the electromagnetic radiation (caused by the vibrations of electrons) of the element was passed through a prism. The prism breaks it up into spectral lines, which show the intensities and frequencies of the radiation – and therefore the energy emissions and absorptions of the electrons.

    Each of the elements has an atomic number, starting with hydrogen, with an atomic number of one. The atomic number corresponds to the number of protons in the element’s atoms. Bohr had already shown that electrons inhabit fixed orbits around the nucleus of the atom.
    Atoms strive to have a full outer shell (allowed orbit), which gives a stable structure. They may share, give away or receive extra electrons to achieve stability. The way that atoms will form bonds with others, and the ease with which they will do it, is determined by the configuration of electrons.
    As elements are ordered in the periodic table by atomic number, it can be seen that their position in the table can be used to predict how they will react.

    In addition to showing that electrons are restricted to orbits, Bohr’s model also suggested that

    • the orbit closest to the nucleus is lowest in energy, with successively higher energies for more distant orbits.
    • when an electron jumps to a lower orbit it emits a photon.
    • when an electron absorbs energy, it jumps to a higher orbit.

    Bohr called the jump to another orbit a quantum leap.

    Although it contained elements of quantum theory, the Bohr model had its flaws. It ignored the wave character of the electron. Work by WERNER KARL HEISENBERG later tackled these weaknesses.

    Bohr’s theory of complementarity states that electrons may be both a wave and a particle, but that we can only experience them as one or the other at any given time. He showed that contradictory characteristics of an electron could be proved in separate experiments and none of the results can be accepted singly – we need to hold all the possibilities in mind at once. This requires a slight adjustment to the original model of atomic structure, we can no longer say that an electron occupies a particular orbit, but can only give the probability that it is there.

    In 1939 he developed a theory of nuclear fission with Jon Archibald Wheeler (b.1911) and realised that the 235uranium isotope would be more susceptible to fission than the more commonly used 238uranium.
    The element bohrium is named after him.

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    1914 – Manchester, England

    ‘Moseley’s law – the principle outlining the link between the X-ray frequency of an element and its atomic number’

    ca. 1910s --- Physicist Henry Gwyn Jeffreys MOSELEY --- Library Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS


    Working with ERNEST RUTHERFORD’s team in Manchester trying to better understand radiation, particularly of radium, Moseley became interested in X-rays and learning new techniques to measure their frequencies.
    A technique had been devised using crystals to diffract the emitted radiation, which had a wavelength specific to the element being experimented upon.

    In 1913, Moseley recorded the frequencies of the X-ray spectra of over thirty metallic elements and deduced that the frequencies of the radiation emitted were related to the squares of certain incremental whole numbers. These integers were indicative of the atomic number of the element, and its position in the periodic table. This number was the same as the positive charge of the nucleus of the atom (and by implication also the number of electrons with corresponding negative charge).

    By uniting the charge in the nucleus with an atomic number, a vital link had been found between the physical atomic make up of an element and its chemical properties, as indicated by where it sits in the periodic table.
    This meant that the properties of an element could now be considered in terms of atomic number rather than atomic weight, as had previously been the case – certain inconsistencies in the MENDELEEV version of the periodic table could be ironed out. In addition, the atomic numbers and weights of several missing elements could be predicted and other properties deduced from their expected position in the table.

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    JOHANNES BRONSTED (1879-1947) THOMAS LOWRY (1874-1936)

    1923 – Denmark

    ‘An acid is a molecule or ion capable of donating a proton ( a hydrogen nucleus, H+ ) in a chemical reaction, while a base is a molecule or ion capable of accepting one’

    The Bronsted-Lowry concept extends Arrhenius’ concept as it includes reactions that take place in the absence of water.

    The strongest known acid is an 80 percent solution of antimony pentaflouride in hydrofluoric acid.
    The strongest known base is caesium hydroxide.

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    Conjugate Acid-Base Pairs

    Conjugate Acid-Base Pairs

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    LINUS PAULING (1901- 94)

    1931 USA

    ‘A framework for understanding the electronic and geometric structure of molecules and crystals’

    An important aspect of this framework is the concept of hybridisation: in order to create stronger bonds, atoms change the shape of their orbitals (the space around a nucleus in which an electron is most likely to be found) into petal shapes, which allow more effective overlapping of orbitals.

    A chemical bond is a strong force of attraction linking atoms in a molecule or crystal. BOHR had already shown that electrons inhabit fixed orbits around the nucleus of the atom. Atoms strive to have a full outer shell (allowed orbit), which gives a stable structure. They may share, give away or receive extra electrons to achieve stability. The way atoms will form bonds with others, and the ease with which they will do it, is determined by the configuration of electrons.

    Earlier in the century, Gilbert Lewis (1875-1946) had offered many of the basic explanations for the structural bonding between elements, including the sharing of a pair of electrons between atoms and the tendency of elements to combine with others to fill their electron shells according to rigidly defined orbits (with two electrons in the closest orbit to the nucleus, eight in the second orbit, eight in the third and so on).

    Pauling was the first to enunciate an understanding of a physical interpretation of the bonds between molecules from a chemical perspective, and of the nature of crystals.

    In a covalent bond, one or more electrons are shared between two atoms. So two hydrogen atoms form the hydrogen molecule, H2, by each sharing their single electron. The two atoms are bound together by the shared electrons. This was proposed by Lewis and Irving Langmuir in 1916.

    In an ionic bond, one atom gives away one or more electrons to another atom. So in common salt, sodium chloride, sodium gives away its spare electron to chlorine. As the electron is not shared, the sodium and chlorine atoms are not bound together in a molecule. However, by losing an electron, sodium acquires a positive charge and chlorine, by gaining an electron, acquires a negative charge. The resulting sodium and chlorine ions are held in a crystalline structure. Until Pauling’s explanation it was thought that they were held in place only by electrical charges, the negative and positive ions being drawn to each other.

    Pauling’s work provided a value for the energy involved in the small, weak hydrogen bond.
    When a hydrogen atom forms a bond with an atom which strongly attracts its single electron, little negative  charge is left on the opposite side of the hydrogen atom. As there are no other electrons orbiting the hydrogen nucleus, the other side of the atom has a noticeable positive charge – from the proton in the nucleus. This attracts nearby atoms with a negative charge. The attraction – the hydrogen bond – is about a tenth of the strength of a covalent bond. 
    In water, attraction between the hydrogen atoms in one water molecule and the oxygen atoms in other water molecules makes water molecules ‘sticky’. It gives ice a regular crystalline structure it would not have otherwise. It makes water liquid at room temperature, when other compounds with similarly small molecules are gases at room temperature.Water10_animation

    One aspect of the revolution he brought to chemistry was to insist on considering structures in terms of their three-dimensional space. Pauling showed that the shape of a protein is a long chain twisted into a helix or spiral. The structure is held in shape by hydrogen bonds.
    He also explained the beta-sheet, a pleated sheet arrangement given strength by a line of hydrogen bonds.

    He devised the electronegativity scale, which ranks elements in order of their electronegativity – a measure of the attraction an atom has for the electrons involved in bonding (0.7 for caesium and francium to 4.0 for fluorine). The electronegativity scale lets us say how covalent or ionic a bond is.

    Pauling’s application of quantum theory to structural chemistry helped to establish the subject. He took from quantum mechanics the idea of an electron having both wave-like and particle-like properties and applied it to hydrogen bonds. Instead of there being just an electrical attraction between water molecules, Pauling suggested that wave properties of the particles involved in hydrogen bonding and those involved in covalent bonding overlap. This gives the hydrogen bonds some properties of covalent bonds.

    1922 – while investigating why atoms in metals arrange themselves into regular patterns, Pauling used X-ray diffraction at CalTech to determine the structure of molybdenum.

    When X-rays are directed at a crystal, some are knocked off course by striking atoms, while others pass straight through as if there are no atoms in their path. The result is a diffraction pattern – a pattern of dark and light lines that reveal the positions of the atoms in the crystal.
    Pauling used X-ray and electron diffraction, magnetic effects and measurements of the heat of chemical reactions to calculate the distances and angles between atoms forming bonds. In 1928 he published his findings as a set of rules for working out probable crystalline structures from the X-ray diffraction patterns.

    1939 – ‘The Nature of the Chemical Bond and the Structure of Molecules’
    Pauling suggests that in order to create stronger bonds, atoms change the shapes of their waves into petal shapes; this was the ‘hydridisation of orbitals’.
    Describing hybridisation, he showed that the labels ‘ionic’ and ‘covalent’ are little more than a convenience to group bonds that really lie on a continuous spectrum from wholly ionic to wholly co-valent.

    Pauling developed six key rules to explain and predict chemical structure. Three of them are mathematical rules relating to the way electrons behave within bonds, and three relate to the orientation of the orbitals in which the electrons move and the relative position of the atomic nuclei.



    1951 – published his findings one year after WILLIAM LAWRENCE BRAGG’s team at the Cavendish Laboratory.

    As carbon has four filled and four unfilled electron shells it can form bonds in many different ways, making possible the myriad organic compounds found in plants and animals. The concept of hybridisation proved useful in explaining the way carbon bonds often fall between recognised states, which opened the door to the realm of organic chemistry.

    X-ray diffraction alone is not very useful for determining the structure of complex organic molecules, but it can show the general shape of the molecule. Pauling’s work showed that physical chemistry at the molecular level could be used to solve problems in biology and medicine.


    A problem that needed resolving was the distance between particular atoms when they joined together. Carbon has four bonds, for instance, while oxygen can form two.It would seem that in a molecule of carbon dioxide, which is made of one carbon and two oxygen atoms, two of carbon’s bonds will be devoted to each oxygen.

    diagram of CO2 bond length

    CO2 bond length

    Well-established calculations gave the distance between the carbon and oxygen atoms as 1.22 × 10-10m. Analysis gave the size of the bond as 1.16 Angstroms. The bond is stronger, and hence shorter. Pauling’s quantum .3-2. explanation was that the bonds within carbon dioxide are constantly resonating between two alternatives. In one position, carbon makes three bonds with one of the oxygen molecules and has only one bond with the other, and then the situation is reversed.

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    SIR JAMES CHADWICK (1891-1974)

    1932 Manchester, England

    ‘Discovery of neutrons – elementary particles devoid of any electric charge’

    In contrast with the Helium nuclei (alpha rays) which are charged, and therefore repelled by the electrical forces present in the nuclei of heavy atoms, the neutron is capable of penetrating and splitting the nuclei of even the heaviest elements, creating the possibility of the fission of 235uranium

    Assistant to ERNEST RUTHERFORD, Chadwick’s earlier work involved the showering of elements with alpha particles. The picture that gradually emerged was one of a nucleus that contained a very heavy particle with a positive electric charge. This particle was christened the proton, the hydrogen building block envisaged by WILLIAM PROUT.
    A spin-off of this was the deduction that the nucleus of the hydrogen atom, the positively charged proton with an atomic weight of one, was present in larger quantities in the nucleus of every other atom.

    Rutherford and Geiger had shown that a helium atom and an alpha particle were the same thing, apart from the positive electric charge carried by the alpha particle.

    A helium atom seemed to consist of a nucleus of a pair of protons circled by two electrons. However, a helium nucleus seemed to weigh as much as four protons. The mass of the known components of an atom did not add-up. Protons seemed to account for around half of the weight and were matched in number by an equal amount of negatively charged electrons to counter their positive charge. But the weight of an electron was one-thousandth that of a proton, so approximately half of the atomic weight of the element was unaccounted for.
    Chadwick solved the conundrum in 1932 when he re-interpreted the results of an experiment carried out by IRENE and FREDERIC JULIOT-CURIE (Irene was the daughter of PIERRE and MARIE CURIE).
    The couple had found in 1932 that when beryllium was showered with alpha particles, the resultant radiation could force protons out of substances containing hydrogen. Chadwick suggested that neutrally charged sub-atomic units, which he named neutrons, with the same weight as protons, could force this reaction and therefore were what made up the radiation that the Curies called gamma rays. Rutherford had hinted at the existence of such a particle in 1920.

    The explanation was widely accepted and the riddle of `atomic weight’ had been solved: a similar number of neutrons to protons in the nucleus of an element would make up the remaining fifty per cent of the previously ‘missing’ mass.

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    The discovery of the neutron made sense of the observation that many elements come in a variety of forms, each with differing radioactive properties such as decay rate. Each form consisted of atoms with a different mass. Frederick Soddy christened these variants ‘isotopes’ in 1911. The idea that each element might be a mixture of atoms of different atomic weights explained why the atomic weights of a handful of elements were not simple multiples of the atomic weight of hydrogen, the most notorious example being chlorine whose atomic weight was 35.5 times that of hydrogen. Most of the variant forms of each element turned out to be radioactively unstable. An element such as chlorine, with more than one stable isotope, is rare.

    The various isotopes of an element were merely atoms with the same number of protons in their nucleus but with a different number of neutrons.

    artistic representation of atomic disintegration

    Thus every atom was composed of electrons, protons and neutrons. The protons and neutrons clung together in a central clump – the atomic nucleus – while the electrons circled in a distant haze. The neutrons were responsible for increasing the weight of the elements without adding any electrical charge. Two protons and two neutrons made a helium nucleus; eight protons and eight neutrons an oxygen nucleus; 26 protons and 30 neutrons an iron nucleus; 79 protons and 118 neutrons a gold; and 92 protons and 146 neutrons a nucleus of uranium. When a radioactive nucleus expelled an alpha particle, it lost two neutrons and two protons and consequently became a nucleus of an element two places lower in the periodic table. When a radioactive nucleus emitted a beta particle, however, a neutron changed into a proton, transforming the nucleus into that of an element one place higher in the periodic table.

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