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FireMadeFlesh's avatar

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

Asked by FireMadeFlesh (16558points) 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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