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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

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Abstract Volume 11 Issue 1 (2006) pp 4-4

How is an Orbital Defined?

David Keeports

Department of Chemistry and Physics, Mills College, Oakland, CA 94613,
Received September 1, 2005. Accepted December 15, 2005.

Published online: 11 January 2006

Abstract. Undergraduate chemistry textbooks are not in full agreement over the question of whether an orbital should be defined as a wavefunction or as the square of a wavefunction. I argue here that the wavefunction definition is preferable both because it is Pauling’s original definition and because it is consistent with the terminology that molecular orbitals and hybrid orbitals are formed as linear combinations of atomic orbitals. Additionally, I discuss the fact that only single-electron spatial wavefunctions can be considered equivalent to orbitals.

Key Words: In the Classroom; general chemistry; organic chemistry; atomic; hybrid; molecular orbitals; conflicting definitions of an orbital; clarification of textbook terminology; diagram labels; preference for defining orbitals as wavefunctions

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Issue date: February 1, 2006

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