In atomic physics, the Bohr model created by Niels Bohr depicts the atom as a small, positively charged nucleus surrounded by electrons that travel in circular orbits around the nucleus—similar in structure to the solar system, but with electrostatic forces providing attraction, rather than gravity. This was an improvement on the earlier cubic model (1902), the plum-pudding model (1904), the Saturnian model (1904), and the Rutherford model (1911). Since the Bohr model is a quantum physics-based modification of the Rutherford model, many sources combine the two, referring to the Rutherford-Bohr model.
Introduced by Niels Bohr in 1913, the model's key success lay in explaining the Rydberg formula for the spectral emission lines of atomic hydrogen; while the Rydberg formula had been known experimentally, it did not gain a theoretical underpinning until the Bohr model was introduced. Not only did the Bohr model explain the reason for the structure of the Rydberg formula, but it provided a justification for its empirical results in terms of fundamental physical constants.
The Bohr model is a primitive model of the hydrogen atom. As a theory, it can be derived as a first-order approximation of the hydrogen atom using the broader and much more accurate quantum mechanics, and thus may be considered to be an obsolete scientific theory. However, because of its simplicity, and its correct results for selected systems (see below for application), the Bohr model is still commonly taught to introduce students to quantum mechanics, before moving on to the more accurate but more complex valence shell atom. A related model was originally proposed by Arthur Erich Haas in 1910, but was rejected. The quantum theory of the period between Planck's discovery of the quantum (1900) and the advent of a full-blown quantum mechanics (1925) is often referred to as the Old quantum theory.
In the early 20th century, experiments by Ernest Rutherford established that atoms consisted of a diffuse cloud of negatively charged electrons surrounding a small, dense, positively charged nucleus. Given this experimental data, Rutherford naturally considered a planetary-model atom, the Rutherford model of 1911 — electrons orbiting a solar nucleus — however, said planetary-model atom has a technical difficulty. The laws of classical mechanics (i.e. the Larmor formula), predict that the electron will release electromagnetic radiation while orbiting a nucleus. Because the electron would lose energy, it would gradually spiral inwards, collapsing into the nucleus. This atom model is disastrous, because it predicts that all matter is unstable.
Also, as the electron spirals inward, the emission would gradually increase in frequency as the orbit got smaller and faster. This would produce a continuous smear, in frequency, of electromagnetic radiation. However, late 19th century experiments with electric discharges through various low-pressure gasses in evacuated glass tubes had shown that atoms will only emit light (that is, electromagnetic radiation) at certain discrete frequencies.
To overcome this difficulty, Niels Bohr proposed, in 1913, what is now called the Bohr model of the atom. He suggested that electrons could only have certain classical motions:
The significance of the Bohr model is that the laws of classical mechanics apply to the motion of the electron about the nucleus only when restricted by a quantum rule. Although rule 3 is not completely well defined for small orbits, because the emission process involves two orbits with two different periods, Bohr could determine the energy spacing between levels using rule 3 and come to an exactly correct quantum rule: the angular momentum L is restricted to be an integer multiple of a fixed unit:
where n = 1,2,3,… and is called the principal quantum number. The lowest value of n is 1. This gives a smallest possible orbital radius of 0.0529 nm. This is known as the Bohr radius. Once an electron is in this lowest orbit, it can get no closer to the proton. Starting from the angular momentum quantum rule Bohr was able to calculate the energies of the allowed orbits of the hydrogen atom and other hydrogenlike atoms and ions.
Other points are:
Bohr's condition, that the angular momentum is an integer multiple of was later reinterpreted by de Broglie as a standing wave condition: the electron is described by a wave and a whole number of wavelengths must fit along the circumference of the electron's orbit:
Substituting de Broglie's wavelength reproduces Bohr's rule. Bohr justified his rule by appealing to the correspondence principle, without providing a wave interpretation.
In 1925 a new kind of mechanics was proposed, quantum mechanics in which Bohr's model of electrons traveling in quantized orbits was extended into a more accurate model of electron motion. The new theory was proposed by Werner Heisenberg. Another form of the same theory, modern quantum mechanics, was discovered by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger independently and by different reasoning.
The Bohr model gives almost exact results only for a system where two charged points orbit each other at speeds much less than that of light. This not only includes one-electron systems such as the hydrogen atom, singly-ionized helium, doubly ionized lithium, but it includes positronium and Rydberg states of any atom where one electron is far away from everything else. It can be used for K-line X-ray transition calculations if other assumptions are added (see Moseley's law below). In high energy physics, it can be used to calculate the masses of heavy quark mesons.
To calculate the orbits requires two assumptions:
1. Classical mechanics
2. Quantum rule
The combination of natural constants in the energy formula is called the Rydberg energy :
This expression is clarified by interpreting it in combinations which form more natural units:
For nuclei with Z protons, the energy levels are:
When Z is approximately 137 (about 1/α), the motion becomes highly relativistic. Then the cancels the in R, so the orbit energy begins to be comparable to rest energy. Sufficiently large nuclei, if they were stable, would reduce their charge by creating a bound electron from the vacuum, ejecting the positron to infinity. This is the theoretical phenomenon of electromagnetic charge screening which predicts a maximum nuclear charge. Emission of such positrons has been observed in the collisions of heavy ions to create temporary super-heavy nuclei.
For positronium, the formula uses the reduced mass. For any value of the radius, the electron and the positron are each moving at half the speed around their common center of mass, and each has only one fourth the kinetic energy. The total kinetic energy is half what it would be for a single electron moving around a heavy nucleus.
When the electron moves from one energy level to another, a photon is emitted. Using the derived formula for the different 'energy' levels of hydrogen one may determine the 'wavelengths' of light that a hydrogen atom can emit.
The energy of a photon emitted by a hydrogen atom is given by the difference of two hydrogen energy levels:
Since the energy of a photon is
the wavelength of the photon given off is given by
This is known as the Rydberg formula, and the Rydberg constant R is , or in natural units. This formula was known in the nineteenth century to scientists studying spectroscopy, but there was no theoretical explanation for this form or a theoretical prediction for the value of R, until Bohr. In fact, Bohr's derivation of the Rydberg constant, as well as the concomitant agreement of Bohr's formula with experimentally observed spectral lines of the Lyman (), Balmer (), and Paschen () series, and successful theoretical prediction of other lines not yet observed, was one reason that his model was immediately accepted.
Bohr extended the model of Hydrogen to give an approximate model for heavier atoms. This gave a physical picture which reproduced many known atomic properties for the first time.
Heavier atoms have more protons in the nucleus, and more electrons to cancel the charge. Bohr's idea was that each discrete orbit could only hold a certain number of electrons. After that orbit is full, the next level would have to be used. This gives the atom a shell structure, in which each shell corresponds to a Bohr orbit.
This model is even more approximate than the model of hydrogen, because it treats the electrons in each shell as non-interacting. But the repulsions of electrons is taken into account somewhat by the phenomenon of screening. The electrons in outer orbits do not only orbit the nucleus, but they also orbit the inner electrons, so the effective charge Z that they feel is reduced by the number of the electrons in the inner orbit.
For example, the lithium atom has two electrons in the lowest 1S orbit, and these orbit at Z=2. Each one sees the nuclear charge of Z=3 minus the screening effect of the other, which crudely reduces the nuclear charge by 1 unit. This means that the innermost electrons orbit at approximately 1/4th the Bohr radius. The outermost electron in lithium orbits at roughly Z=1, since the two inner electrons reduce the nuclear charge by 2. This outer electron should be at nearly one Bohr radius from the nucleus. Because the electrons strongly repel each other, the effective charge description is very approximate, the effective charge Z doesn't usually come out to be an integer. But Moseley's law experimentally probes the innermost pair of electrons, and shows that they do see a nuclear charge of approximately Z-1, while the outermost electron in an atom or ion with only one electron in the outermost shell orbits a core with effective charge Z-k where k is the total number of electrons in the inner shells.
The shell model was able to qualitatively explain many of the mysterious properties of atoms which became codified in the late 19th century in the periodic table of the elements. One property was the size of atoms, which could be determined approximately by measuring the viscosity of gases and density of pure crystalline solids. Atoms tend to get smaller as you move to the right in the periodic table, becoming much bigger at the next line of the table. Atoms to the right of the table tend to gain electrons, while atoms to the left tend to lose them. Every element on the last column of the table is chemically inert (noble gas).
In the shell model, this phenomenon is explained by shell-filling. Successive atoms get smaller because they are filling orbits of the same size, until the orbit is full, at which point the next atom in the table has a loosely bound outer electron, causing it to expand. The first Bohr orbit is filled when it has two electrons, and this explains why helium is inert. The second orbit allows eight electrons, and when it is full the atom is neon, again inert. The third orbital contains eight again, except that in the more correct Sommerfeld treatment (reproduced in modern quantum mechanics) there are extra "d" electrons. The third orbit may hold an extra 10 d electrons, but these positions are not filled until a few more orbitals from the next level are filled (Filling the n=3 d orbitals produces the 10 transition elements). The irregular filling pattern is an effect of interactions between electrons, which are not taken into account in either the Bohr or Sommerfeld models, and which are difficult to calculate even in the modern treatment.
In 1913 Henry Moseley found an empirical relationship between the strongest X-ray line emitted by atoms under electron bombardment (then known as the K-alpha line), and their atomic number Z. Moseley's empiric formula was found to be derivable from Rydberg and Bohr's formula (Moseley actually mentions only Ernest Rutherford and Antonius Van den Broek in terms of models). The two additional assumptions that  this X-ray line came from a transition between energy levels with quantum numbers 1 and 2, and , that the atomic number Z when used in the formula for atoms heavier than hydrogen, should be diminished by 1, to (Z-1)².
Moseley wrote to Bohr, puzzled about his results, but Bohr was not able to help. At that time, he thought that the postulated innermost "K" shell of electrons should have at least four electrons, not the two which would have neatly explained the result. So Moseley published his results without a theoretical explanation.
Later, people realized that the effect was caused by charge screening, with an inner shell containing only 2 electrons. In the experiment, one of the innermost electrons in the atom is knocked out, leaving a vacancy in the lowest Bohr orbit, which contains a single remaining electron. This vacancy is then filled by an electron from the next orbit, which has n=2. But the n=2 electrons see an effective charge of Z-1, which is the value appropriate for the charge of the nucleus, when a single electron remains in the lowest Bohr orbit to screen the nuclear charge +Z, and lower it by -1 (due to the electron's negative charge screening the nuclear positive charge). The energy gained by an electron dropping from the second shell to the first gives Moseley's law for K-alpha lines:
Here, Rv = RE/h is the Rydberg constant, in terms of frequency equal to 3.28 x 1015 Hz. For values of Z between 11 and 31 this latter relationship had been empirically derived by Moseley, in a simple (linear) plot of the square root of X-ray frequency against atomic number (however, for silver, Z = 47, the experimentally obtained screening term should be replaced by 0.4). Notwithstanding its restricted validity did Moseley's law not only establish the objective meaning of atomic number (see Henry Moseley for detail) but, as Bohr noted, it also did more than the Rydberg derivation to establish the validity of the Rutherford/Van den Broek/Bohr nuclear model of the atom, with atomic number as nuclear charge.
He hypothesized that there were 3 orbits.
In modern quantum mechanics, the electron in hydrogen is a spherical cloud of probability which grows denser near the nucleus. The rate-constant of probability-decay in hydrogen is equal to the inverse of the Bohr radius, but since Bohr worked with circular orbits, not zero area ellipses, the fact that these two numbers exactly agree, is considered a "coincidence." (Though many such coincidental agreements are found between the semi-classical vs. full quantum mechanical treatment of the atom; these include identical energy levels in the hydrogen atom, and the derivation of a fine structure constant, which arises from the relativistic Bohr-Sommerfield model (see below), and which happens to be equal to an entirely different concept, in full modern quantum mechanics).
The Bohr model also has difficulty with, or else fails to explain:
Several enhancements to the Bohr model were proposed; most notably the Sommerfeld model or Bohr-Sommerfeld model, which suggested that electrons travel in elliptical orbits around a nucleus instead of the Bohr model's circular orbits. This model supplemented the quantized angular momentum condition of the Bohr model with an additional radial quantization condition, the Sommerfeld-Wilson quantization condition
where pr is the radial momentum canonically conjugate to the coordinate q which is the radial position and T is one full orbital period. The integral is the action of action-angle coordinates. This condition, suggested by the correspondence principle, is the only one possible, since the quantum numbers are adiabatic invariants.
The Bohr-Sommerfeld model was fundamentally inconsistent and led to many paradoxes. The azimuthal quantum number measured the tilt of the orbital plane relative to the x-y plane, and it could only take a few discrete values. This contradicted the obvious fact that an atom could be turned this way and that relative to the coordinates without restriction. The Sommerfeld quantization can be performed in different canonical coordinates, and sometimes gives answers which are different. The incorporation of radiation corrections was difficult, because it required finding action-angle coordinates for a combined radiation/atom system, which is difficult when the radiation is allowed to escape. The whole theory did not extend to non-integrable motions, which meant that many systems could not be treated even in principle. In the end, the model was replaced the modern quantum mechanical treatment of the hydrogen atom, which was first given by Wolfgang Pauli in 1925, using Heisenberg's matrix mechanics. The current picture of the hydrogen atom is based on the atomic orbitals of wave mechanics which Erwin Schrödinger developed in 1926.
However, this is not to say that the Bohr model was without its successes. Calculations based on the Bohr-Sommerfeld model were able to accurately explain a number of more complex atomic spectral effects. For example, up to first-order perturbations, the Bohr model and quantum mechanics make the same predictions for the spectral line splitting in the Stark effect. At higher-order perturbations, however, the Bohr model and quantum mechanics differ, and measurements of the Stark effect under high field strengths helped confirm the correctness of quantum mechanics over the Bohr model. The prevailing theory behind this difference lies in the shapes of the orbitals of the electrons, which vary according to the energy state of the electron.
The Bohr-Sommerfeld quantization conditions lead to questions in modern mathematics. Consistent semiclassical quantization condition requires a certain type of structure on the phase space, which places topological limitations on the types of symplectic manifolds which can be quantized. In particular, the symplectic form should be the curvature form of a connection of a Hermitian line bundle, which is called a prequantization.