Do individual atoms have a certain color?

How atoms make color

As planets orbit the sun, electrons orbit atomic nuclei. But this picture doesn't quite fit: While planets could in principle orbit the sun at any distance, electrons are only allowed to travel in very specific ways. This is what quantum mechanics dictates to them. The spaces in between are taboo. The electrons that orbit an atomic nucleus have a very specific energy, which depends on which path they are on. If an electron is transported from a lower orbit to a higher one, a very specific amount of energy has to be added. Conversely, an electron releases the same amount of energy when it changes from the higher to the lower atomic orbit.

This given amount of energy is transformed into a very special particle: a photon, as the light particles or light quanta are called. This photon corresponds exactly to the emitted energy, which in turn determines the wavelength of the light. The corresponding equation was discovered by the German physicist Max Planck (1858-1947) and thus founded quantum mechanics. The shorter the wavelength, the greater the energy of the light quanta. The wavelength of light also determines its color. The visible light moves in wavelengths between 750 nanometers (red light) and 380 nanometers (blue light).

The electrons in the atoms fill up the orbits they are allowed to, the so-called orbitals, one after the other. The simplest of all atoms is the hydrogen atom, which contains only a single electron. This is in the orbital with the lowest energy. According to the rules of quantum mechanics, another electron fits into the same orbital, so that the second element in the periodic table, the helium atom, can still get by with this one orbital. The electrons of the following elements of the periodic table then gradually occupy the other orbitals.