2.2.5 Drawbacks of Rutherford Model

As you have learnt above, Rutherford nuclear model of an atom is like a small scale solar system with the nucleus playing the role of the massive sun and the electrons being similar to the lighter planets.

When classical mechanics* is applied to the solar system, it shows that the planets describe well-defined orbits around the sun. The gravitational force between the planets is given by the expression

where m1 and m2 are the masses, r is the distance of separation of the masses and G is the gravitational constant. The theory can also calculate precisely the planetary orbits and these are in agreement with the experimental measurements.

The similarity between the solar system and nuclear model suggests that electrons should move around the nucleus in well defined orbits. Further, the coulomb force between electron and the nucleus is mathematically similar to the gravitational force.

However, when a body is moving in an orbit, it undergoes acceleration even if it is moving with a constant speed in an orbit because of changing direction. So an electron in the nuclear model describing planet like orbits is under acceleration.

According to the electromagnetic theory of Maxwell, charged particles when accelerated should emit electromagnetic radiation (This feature does not exist for planets since they are uncharged). Therefore, an electron in an orbit will emit radiation, the energy carried by radiation comes from electronic motion.

The orbit will thus continue to shrink. Calculations show that it should take an electron only 10–8 s to spiral into the nucleus. But this does not happen. Thus, the Rutherford model cannot explain the stability of an atom.

If the motion of an electron is described on the basis of the classical mechanics and electromagnetic theory, you may ask that since the motion of electrons in orbits is leading to the instability of the atom, then why not consider electrons as stationary around the nucleus.

If the electrons were stationary, electrostatic attraction between the dense nucleus and the electrons would pull the electrons toward the nucleus to form a miniature version of Thomson’s model of atom. Another serious drawback of the Rutherford model is that it says nothing about distribution of the electrons around the nucleus and the energies of these electrons.

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