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The applet above models stationary states for the valence electron in monovalent atoms. The choice of Flex Units here means the scales for distance (d) and energy (E) are related as E·d2 = ћ2/2m. With d = a0 = 0.529 Å (1 bohr), E becomes the Rydberg energy, 1 Ry = 13.6 eV, when m is the electron mass. The valence electrons of multi-electron atoms move in the field of a screened Coulomb potential. For monovalent atoms, screening effects on the valence electron are incorporated using the quantum defect model; in Flex Units the potential energy is V(r) = –2(1 + b/r)/r. To avoid the singularity at r = 0, the applet uses the truncated quantum defect potential (see Technical Note #1 below) that appears in the Equation View of the applet. On the tab labeled Graphics: [r] this potential is plotted over the interval [0, 20 bohrs]. The listing to the right of the graph includes placeholders for two p-type radial waves. [Note: Radial waves in the applet are indexed simply by the order in which they appear, which differs from the conventional (nlm) labeling of hydrogen-like states.] The quantum defect model asserts that this form for V(r) requires allowed energies given by (again in Flex Units) Enl = –1/{n – D(l)}2, where n is the usual shell label, l the orbital quantum number, and D(l) the quantum defect. In this exercise we will confirm the quantum defect level structure for p-waves in sodium.


  • The p-wave (l = 1) quantum defect for sodium is D(l) = 0.86. Thus, the quantum defect level structure predicts E21 = –0.769 Ry and E31 = –0.218 Ry for the energy of an electron in the 2p and 3p states of sodium, respectively. Show the first listed p-wave -designated g0 in the applet- by right-clicking its placeholder, clicking the visibility icon beside the "Real" label in the Colors | Visibilities field, then choosing the "OK" button. In fact this state has the energy E21 calculated above (switch to Equation View to confirm), yet the waveform has a noticeable discontinuity in violation of the rule that quantum wavefunctions must be everywhere continuous. The fault lies with the quantum defect screening parameter b, which is initialized to zero .
  • Adjust the screening parameter b upward to eliminate the discontinuity. Right-click anywhere in the graph and select "Display in Window" from the popup menu. This frees the graph to 'float' in full view while we make adjustments to the energy. Reposition the graph as desired and proceed to Equation View, where the screening parameter is recorded as b = 0. Right click anywhere in the equation field for b and select "Edit parameter.." from the popup menu. Use the slider to change the highlighted digits in the text field while observing the waveform; the first digit highlighted can be moved left (right) using the up (down) arrows to the right of this field. [Extra digits can be added before or after the decimal by typing directly in the text field.] The correct screening value for sodium p-waves has been found when no discontinuity is evident in the radial waveform. Finish by selecting "OK" to end the edit session with the current settings. For best results, reset the match point for this waveform --see Technical Note #2 below. Right click in the equation field for E0 and select "Edit parameter.." from the popup menu., then click the reset button (but don't change the energy!). Select "OK", and repeat the adjustment for b. Finally, restore the graph to its rightful place by clicking the close button in the upper right corner of the graph window.
  • Show the next-lowest-lying p-wave -designated g1 in the applet- by right-clicking its placeholder in the list, clicking the visibility icon beside the "Real" label in the Colors | Visibilities field, then choosing the "OK" button. Notice that this state has the energy E31 calculated previously (return to Equation View to confirm). With the value for b just found, this wave shows little or no discontinuity, thus verifying the quantum defect level structure for this case.
  • Find the most probable distance from the nucleus for an electron in the 2p state of sodium. The radial waves displayed in the applet are actually the effective one-dimensional matter waves g(r) = rR(r) that directly furnish radial probability densities as P(r) = |g(r)|2. Thus, the most probable location of the 2p electron in sodium is that value of r that maximizes |g0(r)|. Locate this distance by right-clicking anywhere on the graph, selecting "Trace" from the popup menu, and surveying the results.

  1. The truncated quantum defect potential used in the applet has the quantum defect form down to r = a and is constant therafter. The difference is inconsequential provided a is small. The default (a = 0.0001 bohr) is on the order of the nuclear size, below which the quantum defect form would not be expected to be accurate anyway.
  2. The Numerov method is used to construct stationary waves for a given (trial) energy. Using boundary conditions derived from the correct asymptotic form at r = 0, and then again at the interval endpoint, the Schrödinger equation is integrated inward to a preset match point. The right-side wave is then scaled to make its slope agree with that of the left-side wave at the match point. If the trial energy is allowed, the wavefunction values also will agree at the match point; otherwise, a discontinuity results. The [fractional] discontinuity is recorded in the parameter editor tolerance field, labeled δψ. The technique is most accurate when the match point coincides with an extremum of the wavefunction. Each press of the reset button  re-positions the match point to an extremum of the current waveform.