Electron Configuration of Atom

Electron configuration of an atom represents that how the electrons are distributed in its atom among the orbits (shells) and sub shells. The electron configuration of atom is very important as it helps to predict the chemical, electrical and magnetic behavior of substance. Based on electron configuration of atom, we can predict that two substances will chemically react or not and if they react, we can also predict what kind of reaction is likely to be happen and how strong it will be.
The electron configuration of an atom, describes the arrangement of electrons in space around the nucleus. The electrons are distributed over different energy level. These energy levels are called the shell or orbits.

Basically the distribution of electrons over various shells (energy levels) is such that, the overall energy of all electrons of an atom remains minimum for stability of atom. The electron distribution over various energy level is governed by the following rules –

  • The maximum number of electrons in any main energy level (shell) is given by, ‘2n2’, where, n is an integer and represents the “principal quantum number”. For different main energy levels the value of ‘n’ and maximum number of electrons are given in table below-
    Sl. No.Energy level or Orbit (shell)Principal quantum number ‘n’Maximum Number of electrons (2n2)
    1K12×12 = 2
    2L22×22 = 8
    3M32×32 = 18
    4N42×42 = 32
  • The each main shell (energy level) is subdivided into sub shells. These sub shell are called orbitals. These sub shells /orbitals are designated by s, p, d, f etc. with corresponding orbital quantum number, l = 0, 1, 2, 3, 4,…..(n-1) etc. The number of sub shells in any main shell is equal to “principal quantum number” ‘n’.
  • The maximum electron capacity of sub shells is governed formula of 2(2l + 1). The capacity of sub shells are given in table below-
    Sl. No.SubshellQuantum number (l)Electron capacity of sub shell 2(2l+1)
    1s12(2 × 0+1) = 2
    2p22(2 × 1+1) = 6
    3d32(2 × 2+1) = 10
    4f42(2 × 3+1) = 14
  • Aufbau Principle
  • “Aufbau” is a German word whose meaning is “building up”. Therefore, “Aufbau Principle” is also called “building up principle”. According to this principle, the electrons occupy the orbitals in the order of increasing energy. The increasing energy order of various orbitals and order of occupation is as below –
    To simplify the understanding of order of increasing energy, “Madelung’s rule” is used, which is given below-
Based on above rules, the electron configuration of atom of some elements is shown in table below-
ElementChemical SymbolAtomic No.Distribution of electrons over orbits (shells), 2n2 Electron configuration of atom
K(n=1) L(n=2) M(n=3) N(n=4)
Hydrogen H 1 1 0 0 0 1s1
Helium He 2 2 0 0 0 1s2
Lithium Li 3 2 1 0 0 1s2 2s1
Beryllium Be 4 2 2 0 0 1s2 2s2
Boron B 5 2 3 0 0 1s2 2s2 2p1
Carbon C 6 2 4 0 0 1s2 2s2 2p2
Nitrogen N 7 2 5 0 0 1s2 2s2 2p3
Oxygen O 8 2 6 0 0 1s2 2s2 2p4
Fluorine F 9 2 7 0 0 1s2 2s2 2p5
Neon N 10 2 8 0 0 1s2 2s2 2p6
Sodium Na 11 2 8 1 0 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s1
Magnesium Mg 12 2 8 2 0 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2
Aluminum Al 13 2 8 3 0 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p1
Silicon Si 14 2 8 4 0 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p2
Phosphorus P 15 2 8 5 0 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p3
Sulphur S 16 2 8 6 0 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p4
Chlorine Cl 17 2 8 7 0 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p5
Argon Ar 18 2 8 8 0 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6
Potassium K 19 2 8 8 1 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s1 Or [Ar]4s1
Calcium Ca 20 2 8 8 2 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 Or [Ar]4s2
Scandium Sc 21 2 8 8 2 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 3d1 4s2 Or [Ar]3d1 4s2
Where, [Ar] = 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 represents the electron configuration of Argon which is having completely filled 3-shells. It is used to simplify the electron configuration of elements of higher atomic number.


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