What are the experiments performed to determine the position of an electron inside the atom to verify the probability wave function data? Is it possible to do those experiments in real life?


Hyperfine interactions allow probing the wave function at the position of the nucleus, especially the contact density and the spin polarization of $s$ orbitals. It is a large field with several spectroscopic methods. The interaction influences both the electron energy and nuclear levels. The Mößbauer effect is especially striking. Using the Doppler effect, one can measure minute changes in the energy of nuclear transitions. The isotope Fe-57 (daughter of radioactive cobalt-57) has a very suitable transition at 14.4 keV. With the Doppler effect one can measure spectra with many lines that give information about oxidation state and magnetic moment of the atom.

The total shape of the orbitals can be measured by x-ray diffraction, which can be used to generate electron density maps of crystalline substances. Neutron diffraction can measure spin densities.

Photoemission spectroscopy is used to measure energy distribution functions which can be compared with theoretically computed densities of states.

With positron annihilation one can measure momentum distributions.

| cite | improve this answer | |
  • $\begingroup$ +1 great answer. Some links/resources on each topic would be fun! $\endgroup$ – Wolpertinger Jan 14 '19 at 7:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Pieter Could you please tell me how the position of a single electron is found out thereby constructing those orbitals? How are those hyperfine interactions close to the nucleus are done? $\endgroup$ – Moonzarin Esha Jan 15 '19 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ @MoonzarinEsha It is a large field. I expanded a bit about Mößbauer spectroscopy. $\endgroup$ – Pieter Jan 15 '19 at 18:25

Clear examples of the spatial probability distributions come from X-ray crystallography. This technique is widely used for determining the atomic and molecular structure of crystals.

An incident X-ray beam is diffracted by a crystal into many specific directions. The X-ray diffraction pattern can be calculated back to the electron probability distribution.

X-ray Crystallography Platform
Picture taken from X-ray Crystallography Platform of www.creative-biostructure.com

| cite | improve this answer | |
  • $\begingroup$ Could you please tell me how the position of a single electron is found out thereby constructing those orbitals? $\endgroup$ – Moonzarin Esha Jan 15 '19 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @MoonzarinEsha AFAIK with this technique you cannot examine a single electron. You can only determine the total probability density map of all electrons. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Fritsch Jan 15 '19 at 16:39

Edit after change of title and content one hour after I answered the question, making a drastic change by inserting "inside an atom" in the title and the body

Original title to which the following is an answer:

What are the experiments performed to determine the position of an electron to verify the probability wave function data?

The clearest example of the probability distribution in space comes from the experiment: "electron of specific energy scattering off two slits of specific width and distance"


electron build up over time

One needs to do the experiment with the same boundary conditions for the electron accumulating events, the footprint of each electron on the screen. In the top frames it looks random, but slowly the interference seen demonstrates the wave function solution for the specific probability distribution.

A huge number of experiments accumulating probability distributions exist, the latest gave us the discovery of the Higgs.

| cite | improve this answer | |
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ The OP asked about verifying the wavefunction “inside an atom”. $\endgroup$ – G. Smith Jan 13 '19 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review $\endgroup$ – GiorgioP Jan 13 '19 at 23:11
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @G.Smith Please look at the times and the edits done to the question. *When *I answered there was no "inside the atom" either in the content or the title it was added after my answer, which did not answer the unexpressed real question of the OP, but was not my fault. physics.stackexchange.com/posts/453988/revisions my answer 9 hours ago, edited 8 hours ago. I will post on meta about this. please do not remove comment. $\endgroup$ – anna v Jan 14 '19 at 4:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This answer is being discussed on meta: physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/10975 $\endgroup$ – user191954 Jan 14 '19 at 5:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The minus votes are unfair. $\endgroup$ – Pieter Jan 14 '19 at 8:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.