Electron Configuration of Atoms

The electron configuration of an atom is how the electrons are distributed within the atom’s orbits (shells) and sub shells.

The electron configuration of an atom is important as it helps to predict the chemical, electrical and magnetic behavior of substance.

Based on electron configuration of atom, we can predict that whether 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 the 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 representing 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
    Electron capacity of sub shell2(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), 2n2Electron configuration of atom
LithiumLi321001s2 2s1
BerylliumBe422001s2 2s2
BoronB523001s2 2s2 2p1
CarbonC624001s2 2s2 2p2
NitrogenN725001s2 2s2 2p3
OxygenO826001s2 2s2 2p4
FluorineF927001s2 2s2 2p5
NeonN1028001s2 2s2 2p6
SodiumNa1128101s2 2s2 2p6 3s1
MagnesiumMg1228201s2 2s2 2p6 3s2
AluminumAl1328301s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p1
SiliconSi1428401s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p2
PhosphorusP1528501s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p3
SulphurS1628601s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p4
ChlorineCl1728701s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p5
ArgonAr1828801s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6
PotassiumK1928811s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s1
CalciumCa2028821s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2
ScandiumSc2128821s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 3d1 4s2
[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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