# How does the electron jump across “gaps” in its orbital?

I saw on perhaps COSMOS, and have heard mention from other professors, that electrons sort of "teleport" or something, in their orbital and the quantum level. So looking at the orbitals for a lone hydrogen atom...

...some of those orbitals have 2 or more "blobs" that are separated from each other by some gap; there's some discontinuity.

Take for example that (3,2,2) orbital in that image, where there are two blobs and a gap in between. How does the electron jump from place to another? How do you describe what's happening here?

• – Qmechanic Sep 14 '14 at 20:57
• You should supplement that static visualization with some observation of standing waves in action: google.com/search?q=standing+wave+on+a+string&tbm=vid and be aware that the person preparing that figure made some choices about what probability would be represented as what color and intensity in the image... Taking it as absolutely representative neglects the fact that it is necessarily a information losing reduction. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 14 '14 at 21:17
• BTW (for potential close voters), I don't think this is a duplicate of either of Qmechanics' links as it does not ask about state transitions, but motion between the anti-nodes of a single orbital state. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 14 '14 at 21:38
• I've heard more than once that Tyson said something about electrons teleporting within an atom. I didn't hear him say that myself. If he did say it, I wish he hadn't. – garyp Sep 14 '14 at 23:52
• – Emilio Pisanty Sep 15 '14 at 10:52

The orbitals, which recently have been observed for the hydrogen atom, are probability distributions. These probability orbital distributions have been calculated using quantum mechanical solutions of the Schrodinger equation which give the wave function, and the square of the wave function is the probability distribution for finding the electron at that (x,y,z,t). This last is a basic postulate of quantum mechanics. Postulates interpret/connect the mathematical model to the physics .

Probability distributions are the same both classically and quantum mechanically. They answer the question " If I throw a dice 100 times how often it will come up six", to "if I measure the electron's (x,y,z,t) how often will this specific value come up". Thus there is no problem of an electron moving around nodes. When not observed there just exists a probability of being in one node or another IF measured.

As others have observed, this goes against our classical intuition which has developed by observations at distances larger than nano meters. At dimensions lower than nanometers where the orbitals have a meaning one is in the quantum mechanical regime and has to develop the corresponding intuition of how elementary particles behave.

• What i understand this to mean is that while an electron might in some way "be" in the zero probability spaces between the non-zero probability spaces, it cannot be observed in those zero probability spaces. – EvilSnack Mar 10 at 13:02
• In quantum mechanics one stops of thinking of particles in the classical way. One measures and checks the probability of the measurment following the predictions of quantume mechanics. see this nature.com/articles/498009d to compare with this mathematical predictions for hydrogen hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/Chemical/eleorb.html – anna v Mar 10 at 13:33

The picture of an electron as a little ball that moves around like a billiard ball sometimes works. But it fails enough times that one has to conclude that it's not correct. This is one of those cases when if fails.

The wavefunction represents where the electron might be found if an experiment were done to find it. That's not the same as saying that the electron is actually at some particular place at some particular time. One way of looking at it is to think of the wavefunction as a kind of field that represents the electron itself. The electron field exists anywhere and everywhere there is amplitude. But interactions occur at specific points. If I have some kind of measurement system, it must interact with the electron, and those interaction occur at locations that I might be able to identify.

There are no little balls. There is nothing to cross those lines of zero amplitude.

I don't know how well this picture is justified by theory, but it has to be a step closer to what our theories are telling us than the billiard ball model.

Like garyp says, the electrons are not discrete particles, but rather exist as a smear (a cloud) with the most intensity of their existing in the spaces so described by the wavefunction. Now, all of the electron needs to interact at once, so when an interaction (measurement, chemical reaction, etc.) happens, the wavefunction of the electron changes as well to reflect how it exists at and after the interaction.

The "gaps" are just areas with a lower probability.

Electrons can exist anywhere, and by anywhere I mean anywhere, BUT the probability that you find them outside of the "blob" is so small that it looks like a gap. Think of a sine and cosine wave on the same graph. Where the graphs both cross 0 looks like a gap but the probability that both sine and cosine are 0 can happen. The pictures you are looking at are for a simple visual representation of a very complicated process and trying to understand it without learning it will be very difficult.

• In fact the gaps do contain regions with zero probability density, just as the nodes on a standing wave have zero displacement. – rob Dec 9 '16 at 18:13

A simulation what the wave functions of the electron in the different orbitals. It is just a representative of what an electron may be in an atom.

Because, the material particle disappears and becomes a wave (energy), and reappears as a particle, since the electron, like the light, has a double identity, particle and wave.

• This doesn't really explain the reason why there are gaps in the orbital (cf. the quantum probability distributions that annav mentions). – Kyle Kanos Dec 1 '14 at 14:43
• There is nothing disappearing and reappearing at all. The electron just isn't located at any point in space until meassured (which would 'collaps' the orbital). – Hagadol Dec 1 '14 at 15:44