Excited State in Chemistry: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:00 What Is an Excited State?
  • 1:58 Excited States in Chemistry
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Nathan Crawford

Nathan, a PhD chemist, has taught chemistry and physical science courses.

This lesson defines excited states of electrons within atoms and their significance in chemistry. Learn about this state, see several examples, and complete the brief quiz.

What Is an Excited State?

An astounding result occurs when copper metal is held within a really hot flame. The color of the flame begins to change color to a bright green! What causes the color change of the flame? The reason for the unique color is easy to understand if you learn a few facts about an interesting concept known as excited states.

Before excited states can be defined, some basic concepts from atomic structure require some explanation. Atoms, the simplest whole unit of matter, consist of a positively charged nucleus at the center of the atom that is made of subatomic particles, positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons, surrounded by negatively charged subatomic particles called electrons. The electrons do not just move around randomly, but they occupy specific regions known as energy shells. Within the energy shells, the electrons can be found within cloud-like regions called orbitals.

The electrons that are found in the outermost occupied orbitals of an atom, known as valence electrons, do not always remain in the same orbital or energy level, as they are able to absorb energy from heat or light. When a valence electron absorbs energy, it enters what is known as an excited state. The excited state can commonly take the form of the electron jumping from its original energy level or orbital, also known as the ground state, to an empty orbital of a higher energy shell that is further away from the nucleus. The excited electron does not stay in the excited state permanently, however, and eventually falls back to the ground state. When the electron falls from the excited state, it loses energy in the form of light, a process called emission. The excitation of electrons followed by the emission of green light explains the green flame from the previous example of heated copper.

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