Dr Peter Wothers, Cambridge University explores Atomic Orbitals

25 November 2015

On 15 October 2015, chemistry students of Charterhouse School were very lucky to welcome Dr Peter Wothers, the Director of Studies in Chemistry at St Catherine’s College, University of Cambridge.

Instrumental in developing the Chemistry Pre-U syllabus, he has also been actively involved with the Chemistry Olympiad for over ten years, having recently created the C3L6 Cambridge Chemistry Challenge. He has co-authored ‘Why chemical reactions happen’ with James Keeler and his achievements have been internationally recognized by award of the 2011 President’s Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry. He was also the 2012 Royal Institution Christmas lecturer.

In his lecture titled ‘The Atom’ and organised by the SCI Thames and Kennet Group, Dr Wothers explored the topic of ‘Atomic Orbitals’ as he took us on a journey through the wave functions and software-generated visualized models of different orbitals, each assigned specific quantum numbers (1s, 2s, 2p 3s, 3p etc.). He prompted us to analyze and identify key characteristics of the models, examining any discernible patterns and considering concepts such as spherical symmetry, rotational symmetry and antisymmetry. It was particularly interesting to see how the field of mathematics plays an important role in studying chemistry at a higher level, as he discussed further the significance of locating function roots, polar coordinate system and radial distribution function in the context of atomic orbitals. The use of 3D isosurface plots displayed using computer graphics was another highlight of the talk since it offered a vivid, realistic view of electron density and orbital shapes.

An incredibly fascinating and engaging experience, his talk allowed us to gain a more comprehensive insight into the area of atomic orbitals and the field of chemistry as a whole.

Kaylie Zhu
Charterhouse School

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