D4.2 Periodic Variation in Atomic Radius

Given that electron density is distributed throughout space but concentrated near the nucleus, it is hard to define the size of an atom. Typically, chemists think of atoms as spheres with radii on the order of tens to hundreds of picometers. One way to determine atomic radii is to measure the distance between atomic nuclei in homonuclear diatomic molecules. (Homonuclear means two atoms of the same element bonded to each other.) The radius of one atom is half the internuclear distance. A second way is to measure the distance between the nuclei of two atoms in a solid metal, where each atom touches several nearest neighbors. Once a set of atomic radii has been determined, these values can be used to estimate the lengths of bonds that have not yet been measured.

Figure: Atomic Radius. Atomic radius is plotted as a function of atomic number. Click on each “+” for a description of an important trend.
Activity: Periodic Variation of Atomic Radii

Exercise: Predicting Atomic Radii

Exercise: Atomic Radii and Periodic Table

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Chemistry 109 Fall 2021 by John Moore, Jia Zhou, and Etienne Garand is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.