Niels Bohr (1885-1962)

The Structure of the Atom and the Physical and Chemical Properties of the Elements

Fysisk Tidsskrift 19, 153 (1921) translated by A. D. Udden, "The Theory of Spectra and Atomic Constitution--Three Essays" (Cambridge, 1922) [from Forest Ray Moulton and Justus J. Schifferes, Eds., Autobiography of Science (New York: Doubleday, 1950)]

So far as the principles of the quantum theory are concerned, the point which has been emphasized hitherto is the radical departure of these principles from our usual conceptions of mechanical and electrodynamical phenomena. As I have attempted to show in recent years, it appears possible, however, to adopt a point of view which suggests that the quantum theory may, nevertheless, be regarded as a rational generalization of our ordinary conceptions. As may be seen from the postulates of the quantum theory, and particularly the frequency relation, a direct connection between the spectra and the motion of the kind required by the classical dynamics is excluded, but at the same time the form of these postulates leads us to another relation of a remarkable nature.

Let us consider an electrodynamic system and inquire into the nature of the radiation which would result from the motion of the system on the basis of the ordinary conceptions. We imagine the motion to be decomposed into purely harmonic oscillations, and the radiation is assumed to consist of the simultaneous emission of series of electromagnetic waves possessing the same frequency as these harmonic components and intensities which depend upon the amplitudes of the components.

An investigation of the formal basis of the quantum theory shows us now that it is possible to trace the question of the origin of the radiation processes which accompany the various transitions back to an investigation of the various harmonic components, which appear in the motion of the atom. The possibility that a particular transition shall occur may be regarded as being due to the presence of a definitely assignable "corresponding" component in the motion. This principle of correspondence at the same time throws light upon a question mentioned several times previously, namely, the relation between the number of quantum numbers, which must be used to describe the stationary states of an atom, and the types to which the orbits of the electrons belong. The classification of these types can be based very simply on a decomposition of the motion into its harmonic components. Time does not permit me to consider this question any further, and I shall confine myself to a statement of some simple conclusions, which the correspondence principle permits us to draw concerning the occurrence of transitions between various pairs of stationary states. These conclusions are of decisive importance in the subsequent argument. ...

Before I leave the interpretation of the chemical properties by means of this atomic model I should like to remind you once again of the fundamental principles which we have used. The whole theory has evolved from an investigation of the way in which electrons can be captured by an atom. The formation of an atom was held to consist in the successive binding of electrons, this binding resulting in radiation according to the quantum theory. According to the fundamental postulates of the theory this binding takes place by transitions between stationary states accompanied by emission of radiation. For the problem of the stability of the atom the essential problem is at what stage such a process comes to an end. As regards this point the postulates give no direct information, but here the correspondence principle is brought in. Even though it has been possible to penetrate considerably further at many points than the time has permitted me to indicate to you, still it has not yet been possible to follow in detail all stages in the formation of the atoms. We cannot say, for instance, that a given table of the atomic constitution of the inert gases may in every detail be considered as the unambiguous result of applying the correspondence principle. On the other hand, it appears that our considerations already place the empirical data in a light which scarcely permits of an essentially different interpretation of the properties of the elements based upon the postulates of the quantum theory. This applies not only to the series spectra and the close relationship of these to the chemical properties of the elements, but also to the X-ray spectra, the consideration of which leads us into an investigation of interatomic processes of an entirely different character. As we have already mentioned, it is necessary to assume that the emission of the latter spectra is connected with processes which may be described as a reorganization of the completely formed atom after a disturbance produced in the interior of the atom by the action of external forces.

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