Video: Identifying the Subshell with the Largest Dumbbell-Shaped Orbitals in a Set of Subshells

Which of the following is the subshell with the largest orbitals with a dumbbell-shaped electron distribution? [A] 2s [B] 3s [C] 3p [D] 4d [E] 4f

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Video Transcript

Which of the following is the subshell with the largest orbitals with a dumbbell-shaped electron distribution? (A) 2s, (B) 3s, (C) 3p, (D) 4d, or (E) 4f.

It’s common to indicate a specific electron subshell using a combination of a number and a letter. The number indicates the energy level that the electron occupies. The higher the number, the higher the energy level. But it also tells us the size of the electron distribution. As the energy level gets larger, so does the size of the electron distribution. The letter tells us the shape of the distribution.

Subshells indicated by the letter s have a spherical shape to their electron distribution. Those marked by the letter p have a dumbbell-shaped electron distribution of various orientations: one horizontal, one vertical, and one that would be pointing into and out of the screen. Those marked by the letter d are either in a clover shape or in a sort of dumbbell shape with a doughnut around the middle. Subshells indicated by the letter f have an electron distribution that’s rather too complicated for me to attempt to draw, but there are many pictures available of them online.

This question is asking us to identify of our answer choices, which one would be the largest orbital that has a dumbbell-shaped electron distribution? As mentioned earlier, the subshells that have a dumbbell-shaped electron distribution are marked by the letter p. Of our answer choices, the only one that has a p is answer choice (C), which is 3p. Since only one of our answer choices had a p, we were able to identify which answer choice was correct based on the shape of the distribution alone indicated by the letter. We didn’t have to deal with which one was the largest.

But if we had two answer choices that had a p, we would be able to identify which one was the largest based on which one had the larger number in front of it. So, if answer choice (A) was 2p instead of 2s, for instance, answer choice (C) would still be correct because three is larger than two. Either way, of the answer choices we were given, the subshell that had the largest orbitals with a dumbbell-shaped electron distribution is (C) 3p.

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