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FireMadeFlesh's avatar

What shape do electron probability fields have when they are unbound?

Asked by FireMadeFlesh (16528 points ) March 19th, 2011

According to quantum mechanics, electrons bound in an atom have probability fields of electrons that look something like this.

I can’t seem to find a similar representation for unbound electrons or partially bound electrons. I was taught in high school physics that the physical speed of electrons through electrical wires was around 1m/s – but what shape are their probability distributions? What about electrons being discharged in a cathode ray tube?

On a slightly different note, do we have similar probability distributions for protons/neutrons in an atomic nucleus?

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4 Answers

ETpro's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh What a fascinating question. An unbound electron does not exhibit quantized energy levels. However, it does exhibit the wave/particle duality that photons and other unbound particles do. That doesn’t close the loop on answering this question, but it’s all I can bring to the party, and this is a party I want to attend. :-)

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@ETpro Thanks! Although unbound particles can’t be described as a standing wave, to my knowledge, I don’t think being unbound stops them from being able to be described as probability waves. In the case of a cathode ray tube they also have a measurable energy, but this energy is largely kinetic, rather than in energy levels around a nucleus.

ETpro's avatar

Right. A single particle in a CRT beam would behave just as a photon would in a double-slit experiment.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@ETpro I think I may have to re-read that, and see if I can plot a distribution pattern for that experiment.

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