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Molecular orbitals don’t have to send you into orbit!

One of the first topics that I’ve found students really being to freak at is hybridisation and orbitals. We tackle it early on in the Chemistry course, because an understanding of hybridisation and orbitals makes a lot of more tricky chemistry that we cover later, a lot easier.

Hybridisation is important as it explains the polarity of molecules, and gives a good understanding of why some molecules are more reactive than others and how certain reactions take place. It can also explain things like stereoselective reactions, and why some molecules are coloured or undergo resonance stabilisation as a result of conjugation.

Students can find this topic tricky to get their head around because it is hard to visualise. Molecules don’t look like balls on sticks and bonds don’t form in neat little lines…they form from overlapping electron clouds, or shells, flowing around the bonded nuclei.

What they actually look like is based on quantum mechanical, three dimensional, wave function probabilistic distributions of electrons in space. Hang on whaaa? Don’t worry-read on.

The following video by Hank Green from crash course provides lots of images so that you can actually see what happens in hybridisation, and you will also start to understand the meaning of “quantum mechanical, three dimensional, wave function probabilistic distributions of electrons in space”. No really, you will! Why not give it a try?

My advice is to pay particular attention to the section about s and p orbitals, how the periodic table is like a “map of orbitals” and hybridisation.

We’ll cover these concepts in more detail in lectures and tutorials in the cbsquared Chemistry for GAMSAT online and attendance courses.


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