Atomic Configuration and Bonding

Science, Grade 6


Table Of Contents: Atomic Configuration and Bonding

1. Electron Configuration
The specific way the electrons are arranged in an atom is called the electron configuration. Electrons play an important role in how elements interact with each other and form compounds. Electrons are negatively charged particles that surround the nucleus in the form of a cloud. The atomic number of an atom, which is equivalent to its number of protons, also represents the number of electrons in that atom. The electrons are distributed among orbital shells or energy levels (1, 2, 3 and so on) that are different distances from the nucleus. The larger the number of the energy level, the farther it is from the nucleus. Electrons that are in the highest or outmost energy level are called valence electrons. The valence electrons are the ones that are lost, gained or shared during chemical bonding. In the electron configuration for oxygen, which has a total of 8 electrons, the first orbital or energy level closest to the nucleus is filled with two electrons. The second energy level can hold up to eight electrons. It begins to fill with the remaining six electrons when the first level is full.
2. Valence Electrons and Bonding
The electrons in the outermost shell are called the valence electrons. The outermost orbital shell, called the valence shell, is most often involved in chemical bonding. Elements in the same group in the periodic table have the same number of electrons in their valence shell. For example, all elements in group 1, alkali metals, have 1 valence electron. Group 1 atoms prefer to lose 1 electron to become stable. However, all elements in group 17, halogens, have 7 valence electrons. These atoms will gain 1 electron to fill their valence shell. Atoms with 4 or more electrons in the valence shell like to gain electrons to fill the shell. Atoms with 3 or less electrons in their valence shell like to lose electrons to reveal the full inner shell. Atoms with full valence shells will not combine with other elements.
3. Electron Dot Diagram
The number of valence electrons in an atom of an element determines many properties of that element, including the ways in which the atom can bond with other atoms. An electron dot diagram is often used to depict the valence electrons in an atom. Each atom of an element has a specific number of valence electrons, ranging from 1 to 8. The electron dot diagram includes the element symbol, surrounded by dots. Each dot represents 1 valence electron. The dots are spaced out above, below, to the left, and to the right of the symbol for the first 4 valence electrons. For atoms with greater than 4 valence electrons, the dots must be paired up. The dot diagrams for atoms can also be used to show the bond between different atoms in a molecule.
4. Stability of Atoms
Atoms of most elements are more stable and are less likely to react with other atoms, when they have 8 valence electrons in their outer shell. For example, atoms of neon, argon, krypton, and xenon are very unreactive because they all have 8 valence electrons. Atoms usually react in a way that makes each atom more stable by losing, gaining, or sharing electrons in a chemical bond with other atoms.
5. Chemical Bonds
In 1916, Gilbert Newton Lewis, an American scientist, proposed that chemical bonds are formed due to the electron interaction between atoms. His work established the basis of what we know today about chemical bonding. Atoms combine with other atoms through chemical bonds, which result from the strong attractive forces that exist between the atoms. Atoms bond together to become more stable by having a full valence shell. Certain elements are more reactive than others and will be more likely to bond with other elements. There are three main types of chemical bonding: covalent bonding, ionic bonding and metallic bonding. The bond between 2 nonmetals is usually a covalent bond. Whereas the bond between a metal and nonmetal atom is an ionic bond. Metal atoms bond by forming a metallic bond.