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Question Video: Identifying When an Electron Is in an Excited State Physics

An electron that is part of an atom has the minimum energy possible for electrons in that atom. Is the electron in an excited state?

01:50

Video Transcript

An electron that is part of an atom has the minimum energy possible for electrons in that atom. Is the electron in an excited state?

To answer this question, let’s first recall that electrons in atoms can occupy different energy levels, or states.

For example, let’s think about a hydrogen atom, which only has one electron. The electron in this atom can occupy one of many different energy levels. We can represent these energy levels like so. This level right at the bottom represents the minimum possible energy for an electron in the atom. This energy level is called the ground state. Each of these higher-up levels corresponds to a greater and greater energy. These levels are called excited states. Remember, too, that an electron’s energy must correspond to a certain state; it’s not possible for an electron’s energy to be in between levels.

Now, this question is asking us whether an electron that has the minimum possible energy in an atom is in an excited state. To represent this electron, we can add it onto our energy level diagram. We know that the electron has the minimum possible energy, which means it must occupy the lowest possible energy level. That’s the very bottom level in the diagram.

So, the electron is here, in the ground state, because it has the minimum possible energy. When an electron is in the ground state, it is not in any of the excited states. It is possible for a ground-state electron to move up to an excited state if energy is transferred to it, but that’s not what’s happening in this question.

So, we have seen that an electron that has the minimum possible energy in an atom must occupy the ground-state energy level. Therefore, the answer to this question is no, the electron is not in an excited state.

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