The electron cloud model is a model of an atom in which the atom consists of a small but massive nucleus surrounded by a cloud of rapidly moving electrons. The electron cloud model says that we cannot know exactly where an electron is at any given time, but the electrons are more likely to be in specific areas. The electron cloud model defines the zone of probability describing the electron’s location because of the uncertainty principle.
The electrons in an atom are attracted to the protons in the nucleus by the electromagnetic force. This force binds the electrons inside an electrostatic potential well surrounding the smaller nucleus, which means that an external source of energy is needed for the electron to escape.
The number of electrons in an electrically-neutral atom is the same as the number of protons in the nucleus. Therefore, the total electrical charge of the nucleus is +Ze, where e (elementary charge) equals 1,602 x 10-19coulombs. Each electron is influenced by the electric fields produced by the positive nuclear charge and the other (Z – 1) negative electrons in the atom.
Since the number of electrons and their arrangement are responsible for the chemical behavior of atoms, the atomic number identifies the various chemical elements. The configuration of these electrons follows the principles of quantum mechanics. The number of electrons in each element’s electron shells, particularly the outermost valence shell, is the primary factor determining its chemical bonding behavior. In the periodic table, the elements are listed in order of increasing atomic number Z.
See also: Is an atom an empty space?