What are the differences between Rutherford and Bohr's Atomic models?

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dcbiostat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rutherford’s model and Bohr’s model  of the atom differ in the way that they explain the movement of electrons around the nucleus.

Prior to Rutherford or Bohr, most people believed in the “plum pudding” model of an atom. This model explained the atom was about the same consistency throughout and had electrons scattered on top, much like the raisins are scattered on top of plum pudding.

Rutherford used the famous cathode ray experiment to conclude that atoms contain a small, dense, and positively charged core that we now call the nucleus. Rutherford believed that the electrons within an atom moved around the nucleus in orbits, much like the planets move around the Sun in our solar system. However, Rutherford’s model could not explain the atomic line spectra, which occurs when light is emitted from metals that have been heated.

Bohr improved Rutherford’s model by proposing that electrons travel in orbits that have specific energy levels. Bohr used this model to explain the atomic line spectra of heated metals. Bohr explained that when atoms gain or lose specific amounts of energy (quanta), the electrons move between the energy levels. When electrons gain energy, they jump to higher energy levels. When the metals cool again, the electrons lose energy and drop back down to their “ground state”. In this process, light is emitted in packets of specific energies that correspond to the colors that are seen in the atomic line spectra.

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