Orbital Shaped Standing Waves Using Chladni Plates

Chemistry students are often introduced to the concept of atomic orbitals with a representation of a one-dimensional standing wave. The classic example is the harmonic frequencies which produce standing waves on a guitar string; a concept which is easily replicated in class with a length of rope. From here, students are typically exposed to a more realistic three-dimensional model, which can often be difficult to visualize. Extrapolation from a two-dimensional model, such as the vibrational modes of a drumhead, can be used to convey the standing wave concept to students more easily. We have opted to use Chladni plates which may be tuned to give a two-dimensional standing wave which serves as a cross-sectional representation of atomic orbitals. The demonstration, intended for first year chemistry students, facilitates the examination of nodal and anti-nodal regions of a Chladni figure which students can then connect to the concept of quantum mechanical parameters and their relationship to atomic orbital shape.