How is the electron cloud model different from a real atom?

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annekld eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The electron cloud model was designed by Erwin Schrödinger in 1926 with the help of Werner Heisenburg. These two physicists set out to solve a complicated problem that arose when trying to model atoms and make calculations based on electron positioning. The problem was that electrons moved incredibly fast, not in a fixed orbit but also in between energy levels, making it impossible to know exactly where the electrons were in space relative to the nucleus. At that point, the most current model was the Bohr model, and that model did not account for the movement of electrons between orbitals and was only two dimensional. While finding the exact position of an electron at any given time is impossible, Schrödinger realized that he could figure the probability of an electron being at a certain place in a given atom. Using these probabilities, he developed the electron cloud model which gave a three dimensional prediction of the location of electrons in an atom.

The electron cloud model is different from a real atom in that it depicts where an electron is likely to be instead of the actual position of the electron. This allows scientists to make calculations based on an educated guess of where the electrons are in relation to the nucleus of an atom. While a scientist may not know exactly where the electron is, the electron cloud model gives him or her enough information about where the electron probably is to use for his or her studies.

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