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I remember in my highschool chemistry classes, they taught that an atom can be ionized when it loses a valence electron and becomes positively charged. In quantum mechanics, if electrons aren't really particles orbiting the nucleus, what is it that happens during the ionization (is the wavefunction of the electron destroyed by the ionization process)?

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The wavefunction of the electron is just changed, not destroyed. It leaves the bound state around the atom and becomes a free particle. The bound state wave function is an atomic orbital and the free particle wave function is a traveling wave packet.

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  • $\begingroup$ You mix different types of states. Atomic orbital is an eigenstate, while any wave packet in continuous spectrum must be a superposition of eigenstates (which, however, aren't wavefunctions because they can't be normalized). $\endgroup$ – Ruslan Apr 30 '14 at 14:30

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