Home

Home
Common Compounds
Exam Guide
FAQ
Features
Glossary
Construction Kits
Companion Notes
Just Ask Antoine!
Simulations
Slide Index
Toolbox
Tutorial Index

FAQ
Introduction
Measurement
Matter
Atoms & ions
Compounds
Chemical change
The mole
Gases
Energy & change
The quantum theory
Electrons in atoms
The periodic table
Chemical bonds
Solids
Liquids
Solutions
Acids & bases
Redox reactions
Reaction rates
Organic chemistry
Everyday chemistry
Inorganic chemistry
Environmental chemistry
Laboratory
History of chemistry
Miscellaneous


Home :FAQ :Electrons in atomsPrint | Comment
Previous Question Next Question

What do the letters s, p, d, and f in the orbital names stand for?


Vocabulary
angular momentum quantum number*
line spectrum*
orbital*
spectroscopy*
You might expect that the 's' stands for 'spherical' and 'p' stands for 'polar' because these imply the shapes of the s and p orbitals, but unfortunately, the letter designations have nothing to do with the orbital shapes.

Spectroscopists associated transitions involving energy levels with different ell values with different groups of lines in the line spectra of the alkali metals. The line groups were called sharp, principal, diffuse, and fundamental. When the angular momentum quantum number was used to describe and explain these groups of lines, s became an abbreviation for ell = 0, p meant ell = 1, d meant ell = 2, and f meant ell = 3. For consistency, higher values of the angular momentum quantum numbers are designated alphabetically (g means ell = 4, h means ell = 5, and so on).

Author: Fred Senese senese@antoine.frostburg.edu



General Chemistry Online! What do the letters s, p, d, and f in the orbital names stand for?

Copyright © 1997-2010 by Fred Senese
Comments & questions to fsenese@frostburg.edu
Last Revised 02/15/10.URL: http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/electrons/faq/why-spdf.shtml