Atomic physics

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The atomic physics analyzes the structure of the atoms of the atomic nucleus and electron shell and the interaction of atoms and ions with other atoms or ions with solids, with electromagnetic radiation , with electric and magnetic fields .


Atomic physics is a branch of physics that deals with the physics of the atomic shell and the processes occurring in it. She examines u. a. the distribution of electrons to the quantum mechanical energy levels and thus describes the observed spectral lines of the atoms, the structure of the periodic table of the elements and the basis for understanding the chemical bond .

Atomic physics is often confused with nuclear physics , which deals with the structure of the atomic nucleus; atomic physics regards the atomic nucleus as a building block that cannot be further subdivided.


The idea that all matter is composed of the smallest particles, the atoms, can already be found in the natural philosophy of antiquity, for example in Leukippus and his pupil Democritus . However, it was not empirically substantiated until the 19th century through studies by John Dalton , Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and Ludwig Boltzmann . With the development of spectroscopy , the question of the internal structure and dynamics of atoms arose. This ultimately led to the development of quantum mechanics , since classical physics completely failed here.

For the history of atomic physics from 1919 to 1965 see Werner Heisenberg : The part and the whole : Conversations in the area of ​​atomic physics . Piper Verlag 2002 (8th edition), ISBN 3492222978

Modern atomic physics

The most important research area in atomic physics today is quantum optics . Often only this term is mentioned in the meantime in order to avoid the above-mentioned risk of confusion between atomic and nuclear physics. Quantum optics deals, among other things, with precision measurements of atomic energy levels, from which natural constants can be determined with high accuracy and fundamental theories can be tested. Investigations on exotic atoms allow questions of nuclear and elementary particle physics to be approached using methods of atomic physics. An attempt is made to observe the dynamic processes in the electron shell directly with ultrashort light pulses. Individual ionized atoms can be trapped in ion traps for a long time and examined with the highest precision. The development of laser cooling and the magneto-optical trap (MOT) have made it possible to investigate ultra-cold gases and Bose-Einstein condensates , but also extremely rare isotopes .

Atomic physics has spawned a wide variety of applications, including the laser or the atomic clock . Investigation methods that were originally developed for atomic physics experiments have now found an application that goes far beyond this, such as nuclear magnetic resonance in medical imaging , absorption and emission spectroscopy in chemical analysis , or photoelectron spectroscopy in materials science .

Eminent nuclear physicists


  • Walter Weizel : electrons, atoms, molecules . Volk u. Wissen Verl., Berlin, Leipzig 1949 (187 pages).
  • Niels Bohr: atomic physics and human knowledge: essays and lectures from the years 1930 to 1961 . Vieweg, Braunschweig 1985, ISBN 3-528-08910-5 (X, 160 pages).
  • Bernhard Bröcker: DTV-Atlas Atomic Physics: With 116 image pages in color . 6th edition. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verl., Munich 1997, ISBN 3-423-03009-7 (254 pages).
  • Werner Heisenberg: The part and the whole: Conversations related to atomic physics . 2nd edition, unchanged. Paperback edition Piper, Munich, Zurich 1998, ISBN 3-492-22297-8 (287 pages).
  • Hermann Haken , Hans Christoph Wolf : Atomic and Quantum Physics: Introduction to the experimental and theoretical basics . with… 32 tables 177 exercises and complete solutions. 8th, updated and exp. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg 2004, ISBN 978-3-642-62142-0 (XX, 531 pages).
  • Klaus Bethge , Michael Gruber, Thomas Stöhlker: Physics of Atoms and Molecules: An Introduction . 2., ext. and revised WILEY-VCH, Weinheim 2004, ISBN 3-527-40463-5 (X, 427 pages).

Web links

Commons : Atomic Physics  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: atomic physics  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations