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The figure here shows configuration of electrons. At the top, the key shows two purple balls, which depict electrons. The upward directed arrow on the first ball or electron shows its spin is plus one half, and the downward arrow on the second electron shows the opposite spin that is minus one half. Two other sections show the electronic configurations of electrons for two levels, n equal to one and n equal to two. One section shows the allowed configurations of the electron in the n is equal to one and two levels, and the second section for the configurations which are not allowed. In the allowed section, n is equal to two has three vacant shells and one electron in each of the outer two shells, one with spin up and one with spin down; and n is equal to one configuration has two shells containing one each spin up and spin down electron and the three other shells containing combinations of both spins each. For the not allowed section, n is equal to two have all vacant shells and n is equal to one have unevenly balanced electrons in its shells.
The Pauli exclusion principle explains why some configurations of electrons are allowed while others are not. Since electrons cannot have the same set of quantum numbers, a maximum of two can be in the n = 1 size 12{n=1} {} level, and a third electron must reside in the higher-energy n = 2 size 12{n=2} {} level. If there are two electrons in the n = 1 size 12{n=1} {} level, their spins must be in opposite directions. (More precisely, their spin projections must differ.)

Shells and subshells

Because of the Pauli exclusion principle, only hydrogen and helium can have all of their electrons in the n = 1 size 12{n=1} {} state. Lithium (see the periodic table) has three electrons, and so one must be in the n = 2 size 12{n=2} {} level. This leads to the concept of shells and shell filling. As we progress up in the number of electrons, we go from hydrogen to helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, and so on, and we see that there are limits to the number of electrons for each value of n size 12{n} {} . Higher values of the shell n size 12{n} {} correspond to higher energies, and they can allow more electrons because of the various combinations of l , m l size 12{l, m rSub { size 8{l} } } {} , and m s size 12{m rSub { size 8{s} } } {} that are possible. Each value of the principal quantum number n size 12{n} {} thus corresponds to an atomic shell    into which a limited number of electrons can go. Shells and the number of electrons in them determine the physical and chemical properties of atoms, since it is the outermost electrons that interact most with anything outside the atom.

The probability clouds of electrons with the lowest value of l size 12{l} {} are closest to the nucleus and, thus, more tightly bound. Thus when shells fill, they start with l = 0 size 12{l=0} {} , progress to l = 1 size 12{l=1} {} , and so on. Each value of l size 12{l} {} thus corresponds to a subshell    .

The table given below lists symbols traditionally used to denote shells and subshells.

Shell and subshell symbols
Shell Subshell
n size 12{n} {} l size 12{l} {} Symbol
1 0 s size 12{s} {}
2 1 p size 12{p} {}
3 2 d size 12{d} {}
4 3 f size 12{f} {}
5 4 g size 12{g} {}
5 h size 12{h} {}
6 It is unusual to deal with subshells having l greater than 6, but when encountered, they continue to be labeled in alphabetical order. i size 12{i} {}

To denote shells and subshells, we write nl size 12{ ital "nl"} {} with a number for n size 12{n} {} and a letter for l size 12{l} {} . For example, an electron in the n = 1 size 12{n=1} {} state must have l = 0 size 12{l=1} {} , and it is denoted as a 1 s size 12{1s} {} electron. Two electrons in the n = 1 size 12{n=1} {} state is denoted as 1 s 2 size 12{1s rSup { size 8{2} } } {} . Another example is an electron in the n = 2 size 12{n=2} {} state with l = 1 size 12{l=1} {} , written as 2 p size 12{2p} {} . The case of three electrons with these quantum numbers is written 2 p 3 size 12{2p rSup { size 8{3} } } {} . This notation, called spectroscopic notation, is generalized as shown in [link] .

Diagram illustrating the components of the expression 2 times p to the third power, where 2 is the pricncipal quantum number n, p is the angular momentum quantum number, represented by a script letter l, and the exponent 3 is the number of electrons.

Counting the number of possible combinations of quantum numbers allowed by the exclusion principle, we can determine how many electrons it takes to fill each subshell and shell.

How many electrons can be in this shell?

List all the possible sets of quantum numbers for the n = 2 size 12{n=2} {} shell, and determine the number of electrons that can be in the shell and each of its subshells.


Given n = 2 size 12{n=2} {} for the shell, the rules for quantum numbers limit l size 12{l} {} to be 0 or 1. The shell therefore has two subshells, labeled 2 s size 12{2s} {} and 2 p size 12{2p} {} . Since the lowest l size 12{l} {} subshell fills first, we start with the 2 s size 12{2s} {} subshell possibilities and then proceed with the 2 p size 12{2p} {} subshell.


It is convenient to list the possible quantum numbers in a table, as shown below.

Image contains a table listing all possible quantum numbers for the n equals 2 shell. The table shows that there are a total of two electrons in the 2 s subshell and six electrons in the 2 p subshell, for a total of eight electrons in the shell.


It is laborious to make a table like this every time we want to know how many electrons can be in a shell or subshell. There exist general rules that are easy to apply, as we shall now see.

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Questions & Answers

Suppose a speck of dust in an electrostatic precipitator has 1.0000×1012 protons in it and has a net charge of –5.00 nC (a very large charge for a small speck). How many electrons does it have?
Alexia Reply
how would I work this problem
how can you have not an integer number of protons? If, on the other hand it supposed to be 1e12, then 1.6e-19C/proton • 1e12 protons=1.6e-7 C is the charge of the protons in the speck, so the difference between this and 5e-9C is made up by electrons
what is angular velocity
Obaapa Reply
Why does earth exert only a tiny downward pull?
Mya Reply
Why is light bright?
Abraham Reply
what is radioactive element
Attah Reply
an 8.0 capacitor is connected by to the terminals of 60Hz whoes rms voltage is 150v. a.find the capacity reactance and rms to the circuit
Aisha Reply
thanks so much. i undersooth well
Valdes Reply
what is physics
Nwafor Reply
is the study of matter in relation to energy
a submersible pump is dropped a borehole and hits the level of water at the bottom of the borehole 5 seconds later.determine the level of water in the borehole
Obrian Reply
what is power?
aron Reply
power P = Work done per second W/ t. It means the more power, the stronger machine
e.g. heart Uses 2 W per beat.
A spherica, concave shaving mirror has a radius of curvature of 32 cm .what is the magnification of a persons face. when it is 12cm to the left of the vertex of the mirror
Alona Reply
did you solve?
my name is Abu m.konnek I am a student of a electrical engineer and I want you to help me
the magnification k = f/(f-d) with focus f = R/2 =16 cm; d =12 cm k = 16/4 =4
what do we call velocity
A weather vane is some sort of directional arrow parallel to the ground that may rotate freely in a horizontal plane. A typical weather vane has a large cross-sectional area perpendicular to the direction the arrow is pointing, like a “One Way” street sign. The purpose of the weather vane is to indicate the direction of the wind. As wind blows pa
Kavita Reply
what about the wind vane
If a prism is fully imersed in water then the ray of light will normally dispersed or their is any difference?
Anurag Reply
the same behavior thru the prism out or in water bud abbot
If this will experimented with a hollow(vaccum) prism in water then what will be result ?
What was the previous far point of a patient who had laser correction that reduced the power of her eye by 7.00 D, producing a normal distant vision power of 50.0 D for her?
Jaydie Reply
What is the far point of a person whose eyes have a relaxed power of 50.5 D?
What is the far point of a person whose eyes have a relaxed power of 50.5 D?
A young woman with normal distant vision has a 10.0% ability to accommodate (that is, increase) the power of her eyes. What is the closest object she can see clearly?
29/20 ? maybes
In what ways does physics affect the society both positively or negatively
Princewill Reply
Practice Key Terms 4

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