Absolutely Small: How Quantum Theory Explains Our Everyday World

By Michael D. Fayer | Go to book overview

12
The Hydrogen Molecule
and the Covalent Bond

One of the great triumphs of quantum mechanics is the theoretical explanation of the covalent bond. Two types of interactions hold atoms together, covalent bonds and ionic bonds. Ionic bonds are the type that occurs in a sodium chloride (NaCl) crystal. We know from Chapter 11 and our discussion of the Periodic Table that this salt crystal is composed of sodium cations, Na+1, and chloride anions, Cl−1. The ions in the crystal are held together by electrostatic interactions. Opposite charges attract. There are some complications because like charges repel, but it is possible to show that the attractions of the oppositely charged ions overcome the repulsions of the like charged ions. Such electrostatic interactions can be explained quite well with classical mechanics, although quantum theory is still needed to explain many properties in detail.

In contrast to ionic solids that are held together by electrostatic interactions, classical mechanics cannot explain the covalent bond. We saw in Chapter 11 that a hydrogen atom will tend to form one covalent bond with another atom to share one electron. This sharing brings the H atom to the helium closed shell configuration. But

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