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The crisis of classical physics

3. Thomsons, Rutherfords and Bohrs atoms

Ermanno Amata
Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali
INAF
Via del fosso del cavaliere, 100
00133 Roma

Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

The Balmer series


In the second half of the XIX century physicists studied the
emission and absorption spectra of various monoatomic
gases.
The instrumentation to perform observations of emission
spectra comprises of a light source from the element under
study, a prism to decompose light according to its
wavelength and a means of recording the output data.
The result is a number of discrete lines, each in a different
colour, i.e. a line spectrum.
On the left we see the absorption and emission spectra of
hydrogen.The lines crowd towards low wavelenghts.
In 1885 Johann Balmer found that hydrogen visible lines
obeyed the following formula
f = cRH (1/4 1/n2) ,
where RH = 1,097 x107 m-1 and n = 1, 2, 3,
At the beginning of 1900 infrared and ultraviolet lines were added to the spectrum. As a result, the above
formula was changed into f = cRH (1/m2 1/n2), where m>n, both natural numbers.
Not only hydrogen was studied and it was found that different elements produced different lines.
The reason for that was at that time a mistery!
Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

Thomsons atomic model


At the end of the XIX century, data collected
in chemistry and thermodynamics suggested
that matter was made of small atoms.
Moreover, it was already known that two
electrical charges existed, positive and
negative. To the negative ones physicists had
given the name of electrons (from the ancient
greek word , which means amber),
which already appeared to have a very small
mass.
It was therefore natural to think that atoms should contain electrons together with an equal amonut of positive
charge, so that the atom as a whole would be neutral.
Thomson proposed that both the mass and the volume of the atom should be almost all provided by the
positive charge; the electrons were thought to move in almost circular orbits inside a sort of gel of positive
charge. This circular movement was invoked by Thomson so that the atom could be in a stable state.
Thomsons model of the atom is therefore often called plum pudding model.

Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

The Rutherford experiment


Gold foil
The screen shows
scattered particles

In 1911 Ernest Rutherford, together


with Hans Geiger and Ernest
Marsden, set up an experiment to
verify Thomsons model.
They made the assumption that
Coulombs law would hold at subatomic distances, although until then
the law had not been verified below a
few centimeters.

particle
source

Scattered
particles
Most particles go
straight through

They bombarded a gold foil by


shooting towards it a beam of
particles.

The idea was that, although atoms are too small to be seen even by making use of microscopes, it should be
possible to infer their spatial structure by looking at the way small bullets are scattered by it.
The bullets were particles, which, as we now know, are nuclei of Helium deprived of their two electrons.
Each time an particle hit the fluorescent screen, it produced a small flash.

It this way, it was possible to measure the


scattering angle of particles, i.e. the angle
between the normal to the foil and the direction
along which the particle emerged from the foil.
Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

particles

The Rutherford experiment: a new atomic model


gold
The foil was 10-7 m thick and particles had to
foil
go through about one thousand atoms while
particles traversing it.
Electrons were known to be about 10000 times
lighter than particles. Therefore, they could not
scatter particles at all.
On the other hand, the Thomson model prescribed
that the positive charge was uniformly diffused all
over the atomic volume.

It was thought that most particles would not be deflected at all through the foil, as shown in the upper figure.
Instead, Rutherford observed that a significant, although
small, number of particles was severely deflected: 1 over
8000 was even scattered backwards (lower figure).
Building on his experimental data, he proposed a
thouroghly new atomic model, in which the positive
nucleus was very small (r ~ 10-14 m), while electrons were
distributed over a larger sphere (r ~ 10-10 m).

Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

The planetary atomic model


On the left, we see one more pictorial representation of the
interaction of a beam of particles with a Thomson atom
(upper drawing) and with a Rutherford atom (lower
drawing).
According to Thomsons model, all particles just go
through,
According to Rutherfords model, most particles go
through undeflected, as most of the volume is occupied by
electrons, but a few of them hit the nucleus and are severely
scattered.
Rutheford scheme has an immediate consequence: in order
for negative electrons not to fall on the positive nucleus
because of Coulomb attraction, they need to be in orbital
motion around it, just as planets around the Sun. Therefore,
Rutherfords model is also called the planetary atomic model.
This new model was certailny a step forward with respect to Thomsons model.

However, as we shall see in while, Rutherfords model was not flawless either
Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

Millikans experiment

Microscope

Oil drops
s

+
High voltage difference

Uniform electric field

Between 1907 and 1911 Robert A. Millikan obtained a reliable measurement of the electron charge.
Oil droplets are sprayed into the upper chamber. Some droplets gain an electrical charge, positive or negative,
because of friction against the pipe wall.
In the lower chamber (connected to the upper one by a hole) the experimenter has the possibility to apply a
uniform vertical electric field E between the two horizontal plates of a capacitor. If V is the potential
difference applied to the capacitor plates, the electric field intensity will be
E = V/s
where s is the distance between the plates. In the drawing, E in directed upwards.
As soon a the droplet enters the lower chamber through the hole, the experimenter can switch on the electric
field. The droplet can then behave in one of three different ways:
- just go on falling with no further acceleration (if the droplet happens to be neutral);
- experience an downward acceleration (if it is negatively charged);
- slow down, stop or even start to move upwards (if it is positively charged).
The mass of the droplet can be determined by measuring its diameter through the microscope.
Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

Millikans calculations and result.


The radius and speed of the droplets are measured by observing them through a
microscope equipped with a grid in its field of view. Moreover, the experimenter has
to make use of a chronometer.
Let us consider the case of a droplet which moves upwards.
In that case, three forces act on it, all along the vertical y axis:
FE = qE = qV/s;

FP = -mg;

FA = -6rv.

The droplet charge q is unknown. The third formula is Stokes law, so that is the air
viscosity, r is the droplet radius, v is its speed.

If the droplet moves upwards with constant speed, we conclude that


FE + FP + FA = 0
qV/s = mg + 6rv
It is now straightforward to write
q = (mg + 6rv) s/V

FE

FP

FA

As a result of a large number of careful measurements, Millikan concluded that all


measured charges were either negative or positive multiples of the same elementary
charge.
It was compulsory to conclude that such a charge was the electron charge.
e = 1.5924 x 1019 coulomb.

Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

Rutherfords hydrogen atom


In view of the result of Millikans experiment, it is possible to state that, according to the planetary model, an
atom must in general have a positive nucleus of charge Ze and that Z electrons, each with charge e, orbit
around it.
The simplest case, of course, corresponds to Z = 1, i.e. to the hydrogen atom, composed of a positive nucleus
with charge e and one electron moving over a circular orbit of radius r.
In this regard, the first thing we notice is that the electron must be subjected to a centripetal force

-e

The centripetal force is a vector directed from the electron towards


the nucleus. Along this direction we can define a positive orientation
from the nucleus towards the electron. Therefore we assign to Fc a
negative value.

The Coulomb force exerted by the nucleus on the electron is

Equating such two forces, we get


which readily yields

Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

Still about Rutherfords hydrogen atom


Having calculated the square of the speed, we can proceed to write the electron kinetic energy

We now move to the electrostic energy of the electron, which results to be

This formula tells us that the potential energy goes to 0 as r goes to infinity. Moreover, U becomes strongly
negative when r 0. This means that, in order to move an electron from the vicinity of the nucleus to
infinity, we must give it energy.
We also notice that the absolute value of U is twice that of K. We can now calculate the total energy of the
electron. In conclusion, the total energy of the electron is

The electron total energy is negative, which means that the atom is in a bound state.

Nevertheless, as we shall see in a while, the planetary atom cannot be stable!

Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

Bohrs criticism of the planetary model

In 1911 Niels Bohr realised that the planetary model had a severe flaw, which could
in no way be corrected within the framework of classical electromagnetism. In fact,
according to electromagnetic theory, a charge which undergoes a change of velocity
(acceleration) must emit electromagnetic radiation.
Now, although the electron of Rutherfords hydrogen has a constant angular velocity,
its linear velocity changes continuously in direction. In fact, we have just seen that it
is subjected to a centripetal acceleration provided through the second law of
dynamics by Coulombs force.
Therefore, if Rutherfords electron starts from a certain orbit with a given radius and
speed, which is dynamically stable according to Newtons mechanics, it will
immediately start to emit electromagnetic radiation and, as a consequence, to loose
energy, spiralling towards the nucleus, on which it will fall within about 10-7 s.

Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

Bohrs atom
To solve the problem, Bohr put forward two new bold hypotheses:
- radii of electron orbits are quantised;
- an electron moving on any permitted orbit will not emit any radiation.
The second hypothesis ensures that the atom is stable.
The first one rules that not only the radius, but also the velocity and thus the
total energy of electrons are quantised.
The quantisation of orbit for the hydrogen atom was written by Bohr as
2rnpn = nh,
where n = 1, 2, 3, (principal quantum number), rn is the orbit radius and
pn is the electron momentum on that orbit.
Of course, h is Plancks constant!
As a side note, we may recall that, although Bohr introduced the
quantisation of atomic orbit, he still did not believe that photons were real!

Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.

time
1850
1860
1870
1880
1890
1900
1910
1920
1930

Special relativity
General relativity

Kirchoff defines the black body


Balmer series
Wiens displacement law
Wiens distribution law

Thomson discovers the electron


Raleigh-Jeans law

Plancks law
UV & IR spectral lines
Lenards photo-el effect
Plum Pudding Model

Einsteins photo-el effect

Millikan measures e
Rutherfords exper. & atom

Bohrs atom
Franck-Hertz experiment
Old quantum meachanics
Compton effect

Quantum mechanincs
Lectures delivered at the Liceo Scientifico Statale Bruno Touschek, Grottaferrata, on February 16, 17 and 18, 2015.